Archive - Oct 2017

Date
  • All
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
  • 11
  • 12
  • 13
  • 14
  • 15
  • 16
  • 17
  • 18
  • 19
  • 20
  • 21
  • 22
  • 23
  • 24
  • 25
  • 26
  • 27
  • 28
  • 29
  • 30
  • 31

October 21st

October

T.S. Eliot wrote that April is the cruelest month. For me, it is probably October.

Forty-one years ago, I was off in college and received a letter from my mother that one of my high school classmates had disappeared. I called home frantic. Over the rest of the month, I received additional letters from home; newspaper clippings of the search for Rocky, followed by the bulletin from her funeral service. They never found the murderer.

Five years ago, on Sunday, Tropical Depression Eighteen formed south of Jamaica. Over the following week it gained strength and made its way up the coast as hurricane Sandy. As I was digging out after the storm, I received a Facebook message from my sister, “Aldon call me immediately”. There had been a car accident. My mother was dead.

This morning, Facebook suggested a memory from a year ago, my blog post, Good Friday Open Heart Surgery. I spoke about the discernment retreat I was about to go on with the Commission on Ministry and my hopes and fears. A week later, my greatest fear happened.

I am still putting together the pieces from each trauma

October 14th

The Inter-relationship between News, Culture, and Religion

This is another article written for the News and Religion course I am taking at the Religious Freedom Center at the Newseum. I will be participating in the classes DC Immersion Experience Monday through Wednesday of this coming week. This will include a Open House which I encourage friends in the DC area to attend.

Now, on with the article:

This week in News and Religion, we are grappling with the question, “What is the role of Religion and its value in today’s news media environment?” It makes me think of the quote attributed to Karl Barth, “We must hold the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.” Underlying this is the age-old question of the relationship between culture and media. To what extent does media shape culture and to what extent does media reflect culture? They are inter-related.

This becomes all the more complicated within a pluralistic culture. What happens when people from one culture, or religion, report on people from another culture or religion? What happens when one culture adopts actions, symbols, or beliefs from another culture? What is the relationship between trans-cultural diffusion, cultural appropriation, and the remix culture?

Let’s start by looking at the role of today’s news media on religion. News media provides us information. It may be simple information about when an event is happening, what happened at an event, or what was preached about from a given pulpit on a given Sunday. It may be more complicated stories about ecclesiastical struggles related to moral issues and the culture wars of today.

A good example of this is the article, Anglican leaders head to the Communion’s “Mother Church” for 2017 Primates’ Meeting. While much of the focus on this event in the secular press has been around issues of human sexuality, the article by the Anglican Communion News Service focuses on other issues of perhaps even greater importance, such as climate change, human trafficking, and mission strategy.

Human sexuality is a titillating subject that a lot of people have a lot of opinions about. The articles in the secular news media about how a faith tradition understands human sexuality draws a lot of attention, although it is questionable how much such articles help shape our views. The Anglican Primates meeting in early October provided a great example of this. Much of the secular press prior to the meeting focused on possible sanctions against the Scottish Episcopal Church for their decision to allow same-sex marriage. The reports from the meeting, however, ended up with a very different focus: “The sense of common purpose underpinned by God’s love in Christ and expressed through mutual fellowship was profound.”

Climate change is an interesting topic that is discussed a lot in the secular media, usually with a political focus. Yet many people of faith feel they are called to respond to issues of climate change from a religious perspective. Coverage of climate change from a religious perspective in the secular media has the potential to further shape the political discourse around climate change.

The news media helps the broaden community understand know what is going on in religious communities and helps shape opinions and cultural history around important issues.

This leads us to “the role of Religion and its value in today’s news media environment”. First, we need to consider the role of Religion, in and of itself. While it is important to differentiate between religion and ecclesiastical organizations, it might be helpful to look at how the Episcopal Church describes its mission in its Book of Common Prayer.

The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.

Religion is the context within which news happens. It is the way people relate with one another and with the divine, especially as it relates to current events. News happens within a context; within a cultural context, a political context, and a religious context. Good reporting contextualizes the stories being reported on. So the role and value of religion in today’s news environment is to provide a key context so that the readers may more fully understand the stories being reported upon.

The problem that this raises is that we live in a pluralistic society. There are many different religious viewpoints. This can become even more complicated when one culture appropriates ideas, symbols, or beliefs from another culture.

Cultural appropriation has become a major topic in American discourse these days. Jenni Avins article in The Atlantic, The Dos and Don’ts of Cultural Appropriation provides a valuable exploration of this topic, including discussing the adoption of “sacred artifacts as accessories”.

How do we differentiate between trans-cultural diffusion and cultural misappropriation? Avins article provides some useful guidelines, and it is something reporters need to be especially conscious of. Are they simply reporting trends in trans-cultural diffusion or are they contributing to cultural misappropriation?

Religion, culture, news, and entertainment are all delicately interwoven in the fabric of our society. They each influence one another and are influenced by one another. We should all seek to be culturally aware in our discourse lest we tear at the fabric of our society.

October 9th

I am not a Racist

Trayvon, Michael, Eric, Sandra, and Tamir,
I am not a racist.
From Charleston to Charlottesville, with confederate flags and statues of Robert E. Lee,
I am not a racist.
From taking a knee to washing with Dove,
I am not a racist.

I don’t have a confederate flag on the back of my pickup truck,
but I don’t see what the big deal is about,
it’s part of our history.

I don’t tell racist jokes, at least if there is anyone I might offend around,
and I try not to laugh too hard when someone else does.

I am not a racist,
but I don’t get why those people
are blocking traffic
or kneeling during the National Anthem.

I argue with my friends
whether Dove or the ad-agency is more to blame
ignoring my complicity
in over four centuries of systemic racism.

Can’t we just make America great again,
like when everyone knew their place
and we didn’t have to think about
racism and injustice?

(Categories: )

October 7th

Cognitive Dissonance, Filter Bubbles, and Fake News

This is another commentary that I wrote for the "News and Religion" course I am taking at the Religion and Freedom Center of the Newseum. Comments are always greatly appreciated.

What a wonderful time it once was. In the morning, the New York Times was delivered to our doorsteps, bringing us all the news that was fit to print and in the evening the most trusted man in America, Walter Cronkite, summed it all up I the CBS evening news.

If we didn’t like what they had to say, we could read the NY Daily News or the newspaper started by one of America’s recently re-discovered super hero founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton, the NY Post. If CBS wasn’t to our liking, we could watch NBC or ABC.

The Federal Communications Commission had rules in place about media ownership, equal time, and the Fariness doctrine. Over the past few decades, especially as more and more news moved online, these rules have been relaxed, and it has become harder and harder to get fair and equal coverage.

Yet perhaps things were not as fair and equal as they seemed. Was the New York Times really telling us all the news that was fit to print, or just the news that its editors felt was fit to print? Was Walter Cronkite truly presenting an objective view of the day’s news, or were his broadcasts shaped by the opinion and biases of the writers and editors?

There is an old Ethiopian proverb, “Until the lioness tells the story, the hunt will always be glorified.” Was our news being shaped by a cishet white corporate male perspective, by what it chose to cover, chose not to cover and the way it presented what it did cover?

The Internet brought about important changes in whose voices got heard. Just about anyone could set up a blog and write their own commentary. People admitted, or perhaps more accurately, promoted their biases, and there was a belief that by doing so, informed readers could get a much more complete picture.

In 2004, I was credentialed as a blogger to the Democratic National Convention in Boston. Like several other bloggers, I had access to the proceedings and could write from my own point of view, expressing my biases, not having to please any editors.

As the convention was getting started, there was a breakfast for the bloggers. A guest speaker at was Pulitzer Prize winning political journalist for the associated press, Walter Mears. During the question and answer period, David Weinberger, one of the co-authors of the Cluetrain Manifesto, and a fellow at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University asked Mears who he was supporting for president. Mears wouldn’t say, citing the importance of being objective. Weinberger responded asking how we trust Mears if he wouldn’t admit to his biases.

USA Today wrote about it in Blogs, journalism: Different factions of the write wing and years later, Weinberger expanded about it in a blog post, Transparency is the new objectivity.

Yet knowing a writer’s biases, whether they admit them or not, is only the starting point of understanding stories in the news. Last year, Factcheck.org wrote an article, How to Spot Fake News. It pointed out the importance of checking sources, digging deep, checking one’s own biases and other important ways to spot fake news. Unfortunately, most news consumers do not take the time to do this.

This takes us to the question of what fake news really is. In the Factcheck article, they refer to it as “a malicious fabrication”. Historians might put fake news into the larger historical context and call it propaganda. The phrase is now often used by some politicians to discredit anyone who writes something critical of them.

So the question becomes, how much of an issue is fake news? In his article “Is ‘fake news’ a fake problem? in the Columbia Journalism Review, Jacob Nelson writes,

“First, the fake news audience is tiny compared to the real news audience–about 10 times smaller on average… We also found that the fake news audience does not exist in a filter bubble. Visitors to fake news sites visited real news sites just as often as visitors to real news sites visited other real news sites.

This is not to say that people don’t exist in filter bubbles. In an article exploring fake news, Researchers Say They've Figured Out What Makes People Reject Science, And It's Not Ignorance, Fiona McDonald writes,

The issue is that when it comes to facts, people think more like lawyers than scientists, which means they 'cherry pick' the facts and studies that back up what they already believe to be true.

This becomes a special concern for those reporting on faith and religion. Many of the narratives of our religious traditions are at best unverifiable and would easily be dismissed by non-believers. In my Introduction to the Old Testament class, we recently discussed some of the older stories, like those of the exodus might be considered fake news. I am finding myself in lots of discussions about the role of written texts in forming our cultural history and biases. They texts might remain valuable, even if they are not factual.

As an example, consider the story of Teddy Stoddard. It is a heart-warming story of a little boy and a teacher that believed in him. It gets circulated frequently on the Internet. It isn’t true, but as Carole Fader observes at the end of her article, “It obviously has had a real impact on many people — even if Teddy, Mrs. Thompson and their story aren’t real.”

Stories of our belief, whether they date back thousands of years or are more current stories about what we believe about our fellow humans are very powerful. Some stories feel like they represent some universal truth. Others reflect the cultural memory of one religion or another. These days it becomes more complicated to choose the stories we tell as our politics becomes more polarized and our society becomes more multi-cultural representing greater religious variations.

So yes, it was a much simpler time, when could get all our facts from a hegemonic filter bubble that gave us all the news that was fit to print in the morning and in in the evening, the most trusted man in America could tell us, “that’s the way it is”. Now, we need to choose which information we believe. We can do it to minimize cognitive dissonance, or we can do it to expand our understanding.

Now, more than ever, we need to find ways to help all of us expand our understanding.

October 1st

Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit - Lots of Writing

Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit. A new week, a new month, a new quarter, a new fiscal year for the government.
September has come and gone with lots of reading, lots of writing, but not a lot making it up as blog posts. October looks like it will be more of the same, but with a bunch of travel added on. How will all of this shape my writing going forward?

The courses I’m taking, Intro to Old Testament and News and Religion are going well. It is interesting to see how they interrelate. What was the news of the Ancient Near East? How was it reported? How does Biblical criticism relate to news criticism today?

I am still working on establishing the new normal in my schedule, trying to balance work, life, studies, and many different extracurricular activities. There is more to be written, but there is homework to be done as well.