Chatting with Catholic communicators

I just got back from a meeting of the Tri-State Catholic Committee on Radio and Television, where I got the chance to talk a bit about my job and my new books.

The committee is an informal group, really, that tries to coordinate the work of Catholic communications people in and around NY. The group also gives out awards each year to television and radio people.

This morning’s meeting was at “1011,” the Catholic Center on First Avenue. I got to chat with Father Jim Gardiner of Graymoor, who coordinates things, Joe Zwilling, the longtime spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York (who I must have interviewed 500 times), Frank DeRosa of the Brooklyn Diocese, John Woods, the editor of Catholic New York, and Dennis Heaney of the Christophers.

We talked a bit about the journalism business, my life as a religion reporter, and blogs (of course, we chatted about the phenomenon that is “Whispers in the Loggia”: Someone asked me what the rules are for this blog, as far as content, my perspective, even the language that I use.

I answered that there really aren’t any rules. You try to think like a journalist, be responsible, be interesting. And then you see where it goes.

Borscht Belt memories

What a trip.

On June 14, the Museum of Jewish Heritage in NYC opens “an exhibit”: on Jewish vacationing. Really.

topllow.JPGBut think about. How many get-away spots are associated with Jewish culture in the U.S.? Summers in the Catskills. Day trips to Coney Island. Bus journeys to Atlantic City. Winters (and Golden Years) in Florida.

The exhibit is called The Other Promised Land: Vacationing, Identity, and the Jewish-American Dream and will run through Jan. 1.

Visitors will be able to see photos, artifacts, film footage and other materials from all the Jewish vacation spots of yore.

The museum is even asking Jews to offer their own vacation photos for consideration. You can send no more than two scanned or digital vacation photos to

Watch Dirty Dancing again, raise a glass of kosher wine and check it out.

Carter, H.W. Bush to meet at Billy Graham Library

Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton will all be on hand tomorrow for the dedication of the new “Billy Graham Library”: in Charlotte, N.C.

images2.jpegWe’ve all heard that Bush and Clinton have become buddies. But you have to wonder if there will be some tension between Carter and Bush, given what Carter said recently about the current President Bush.

Speaking to Frank Lockwood, the Bible Belt Blogger for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Carter said that the current Bush administration is the worst in American history. He also slammed George W. for hacking at the wall between church and state.

Carter later hedged, but you can listen to the “interview”: yourself.

images3.jpegBy the way, I came across Bill Maher’s show on HBO the other night (I had to stop and see what Ben Affleck could possible have to say), when Maher started talking about Carter’s comments. What surprised him about the whole thing?

“Arkansas has newspapers?” he said.

Cheap shot, Bill.

I’m guessing Maher doesn’t read Bible Belt Blogger, unless he’s looking for ammunition for one of his anti-religion zingers.

Creation Museum created (but it took longer than six days)

Four thousand people showed up on Memorial Day for the opening of the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky., 20 miles southwest of Cincinnati.

bilde1.jpegThe $27 million facility aims to prove that the planet was created during six, 24-hour days about 6,000 years ago. One exhibit shows dinosaurs aboard Noah’s ark.

I wasn’t there (I wish I was!), but the Cincinnati Enquirer has covered the museum’s opening in-depth.

Read it all — who built it and why — right “here.”:

Changes to Catholic review board

A NYS Supreme Court judge from Queens is among several new appointees to the lay national board that reviews how Catholic dioceses are complying with policies to prevent sex abuse.

Judge Robert Kohm, who serves the 11th Judicial District in Jamaica, is an adjunct assistant professor at St. John’s University. He has served as president of the Association of Justices of the Supreme Court of the State of New York.

Judge Michael Merz, of Dayton, Ohio, a trial judge for 30 years, has been named chair of the National Review Board. He replaces Patricia O’Donnell Ewers, a former president of Pace University.

I happened to catch Ewers a few weeks ago when she was a guest on the Catholic Channel on SIRIUS satellite radio. She was very positive about serving on the board, which the bishops established after the crisis of 2002.

“My sense is that the bishops knew they had a huge crisis and responded with unbelievable speed,” she said.

Asked if the review board was truly independent in its work, she said:

“It’s really our responsibility to speak our minds. Our obligation in this instance is not to the bishops. It’s to the children and young people.”

Are the media biased against liberal religious voices?

The media, we have all heard, are supposed to be liberal. And biased (in a liberal way).

Today, a self-described progressive research group released “a study”: that finds that the media give much more attention to conservative religious voices than to liberal or progressive religious voices.

The study — cleverly titled “Left Behind: The Skewed Representation of Religion in Major News Media” — found that conservative religious leaders were “quoted, mentioned, or interviewed” 2.8 times as often as liberal leaders in major newspapers and on national television.

David Brock, president and CEO of Media Matters, which did the study, said this:

For religious progressives, this report won’t come as a surprise — they know firsthand that when it comes to a media discussion of religious issues, they rarely have a seat at the table. If the public is to have confidence in the media, the views of the vast majority of religious Americans must be represented. As our report details, those who get their news from leading press outlets could only assume that a right-wing conservative voice and a religious voice are one in the same — that is clearly not the case.

Personally, I think there’s much truth to what the study claims. But why?

Some progressive religious leaders have told me one theory: that media people are anti-religion, so they trot out angry, self-righteous, conservative voices who make all religion look bad.

That’s one theory. Might have some truth to it.

But here’s the thing: Journalists (and we’re talking about journalists if we’re talking about newspapers and TV) are drawn to black-and-white debates, to conflict and controversy, to direct statements and plans for action. More often than not, conservative religious leaders provide this kind of stuff.

If conservatives want states to pass pro-marriage (and anti-gay rights) laws, that’s a story. Cut and dry. No doubt about it.

Liberal and moderate religious voices tend to allow for shades of gray. They hedge. They generalize. They leave room for doubt. They’re okay with exceptions.

They also tend to take positions — on fighting poverty, for example — that do not provide for as much conflict. Everyone agrees, more or less, that poverty is a bad thing (even if some folks aren’t as concerned as others with doing something about it).

And another thing: Journalists probably view the “moral” issues that conservatives focus on as somehow more religious than the social issues that liberals worry about.

Are liberal/moderate/progressive religious leaders getting short shrift from the national media? Yeah, probably. Journalists can learn to inject more religious diversity into their stories if they take the time to find out what liberal folks believe and why.

But liberal leaders can also do a much better job of explaining what they believe. Get to the point. Make your case. Quote from Scripture like conservatives do. Be passionate. Make the media pay attention.

I can’t help wondering what conservatives will make of this study. They’ll probably toss it off without much problem. After all, Media Matters describes itself this way: “a progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media.”

How hard will it be for conservatives to dismiss this study as another example of liberal bias?

Tennessee Baptists in White Plains

If you happened to be walking through White Plains over the holiday weekend and saw people handing out religious tracts, they may have been from Cleveland, Tenn.

A group from the other Cleveland has spent the past few days in and around White Plains, helping to promote “Christ the King Church,”: a new congregation that was started last fall by two Southern Baptist ministers.

Christ the King is holding 10 a.m. Sunday worship services at the YWCA (515 North St.) and is trying to reach unchurched Westchesterites who might be interested in a Bible-based evangelical group.

I spoke today with the Rev. Shane Pierce, one of the pastors of the church, who told me that friends from back home are stepping up to help spread the word in White Plains.

They passed out a card that says:

Are you searching for answers regarding…

Anger? Work? Relationships? Marriage? Anxiety? Guilt? Purpose? Heaven? Addictions? Fear? Loneliness? Parenting? Stress? Finances?

and most of all…Are you seeking answers about God?

Let your search continue at…

Christ the King Church

Pierce told me that another group, this one from Indiana, will be taking to the streets in White Plains in July.

An Episcopal priest confronts the ‘blasphemy challenge’

I blogged this morning about the “blasphemy challenge” on You Tube. Basically, more than 1,000 people have filmed themselves saying “I deny the Holy Spirit” and put it on You Tube.

A reader just alerted me to a recent You Tube post on the blasphemy challenge from the Rev. Matthew Moretz, a young Episcopal priest at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Yonkers who does a regular video blog on You Tube called “Father Matthew Presents.”

tjndc5-5db3a4e0f54ryoj3gg1_thumbnail.jpgYou can hear Father Matthew’s thoughts on the blasphemy challenge “here.”:

I just watched it. I think it’s safe to say that Moretz has a more charitable view toward atheists and their video blasphemy than would many others. He starts out by saying:

“I’m glad to see a taboo broken. People should feel free to speak out of their convictions.”

Then he empathizes with those who have taken up the challenge:

“Part of what I think is going on is that there is an understandable allergic reaction to people of my ilk who have used manipulative tactics to spread their faith.”

Moretz mentions several “threats” and “thinly veiled threats” that he says are often used to get people to think like Christians. He doesn’t like them — and apologizes to those who have been hurt.

“It sounds like many of you have been pushed to your limit. For that I am truly sorry.

Moretz is, of course, going for a different, foreign audience — an unchurched audience — with his You Tube blogs. He’s willing to meet You Tube watchers where they live.

He acknowledges that the blasphemy videos “sting,” and adds:

“I wish I could share with you the Holy Spirit that I know, the love of God that animates all creation.”

He closes this way:

“As atheism gains a voice on You Tube, I hope it’s a sign that the era of manipulative evangelism and that the repression of atheists, that that era is over — and that a new, more charitable era can begin.”

Blasphemy and more on You Tube

Did you catch Virginia Heffernan’s “column”: about You Tube in the NYT’s Arts & Leisure section on Sunday?

She wrote about some of the “most fascinating worlds to get lost in” on You Tube, including the world of blasphemy.

I guess I don’t spend enough time checking about what people put on You Tube, especially the “religious” content.

Honestly, I mostly go there to check out old video footage of musical heroes like Otis Rush and Sam & Dave. What do I know?

Heffernan writes that 1,200 people have posted blasphemy videos. What are blasphemy videos, you ask. They are videos of people reciting the line “I deny the Holy Spirit,” and sometimes adding on their own observations.

It’s all part of a challenge — the “Blasphemy Challenge”: — that has been put forth by the Rational Response Squad.

So I did a search for “blasphemy” on You Tube and sampled the results.

I watched a middle-aged, rather eloquent chap say, “Whether awake or asleep, I deny the Holy Spirit in every way.”

I watched a young, Asian woman use more than a bit of profanity to denounce the Holy Spirit and all forms of God.

I watched a funny, African-American gentleman deny the existence of not only the Holy Spirit, God and Jesus, but many, many other things.

And there are 1,000 more.

What does it mean? Probably nothing more than this: there is some of everything on the Web. And anything that can be filmed — any kind of pledge or statement or oath — will show up on You Tube. And lots of people don’t mind making their parents really angry (unless they know their parents will never, ever check out You Tube).

Mandalas, here, there and everywhere

Just a few days ago, a mandala was in the national news.

Eight Tibetan Buddhist monks had just spent eight days at Kansas City’s Union Station creating a mandala — an intricate design of sand that expresses Buddhist principles — when a little boy innocently danced across it.

tjndc5-5exojxpulmcod45mlah_layout.jpg“No problem,� said Geshe Lobsang Sumdup, leader of the group, according to the AP. “We didn’t get despondent. We have three days more. So we will have to work harder.�

It just so happens that a Buddhist monk was also at the Masters School in Dobbs Ferry this week creating a mandala. I just got back from the school, where I saw the finished product, a truly beautiful work of art.

Then I watched the monk, with the help of students, dismantle the mandala, collect the sand in two cups and then spill the sand in the Hudson River. If you want to know why — drum roll, please — read my story tomorrow in the Journal News/