Saturday, December 29, 2007
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Antonio Monda, a filmmaker, teacher at NYU film school and co-founder and artistic director of the literary festival Le Conversazioni, met with noted cultural figures (authors, artists, filmmakers and others) to talk about God and religion.
His book, Do You Believe? Conversations on God and Religion was published last month by Vintage Books. I read through it yesterday (it's very breezy) and found it raised some interesting points, but barely scratched the surface of the conversations.
This would have worked tremendously as an audio or visual project rather than a Q&A in print form. It would have been interesting to see Grace Paley or Saul Bellow or Martin Scorsese as they contemplated the questions and after I finished each brief conversation, I was left wanting much more.
Several themes emerged from the conversations with Paul Auster, Saul Bellow, Michael Cunningham, Nathan Englander, Jane Fonda, Richard Ford, Paula Fox, Jonathan Franzen, Spike Lee, Daniel Libeskind, David Lynch, Toni Morrison, Grace Paley, Salman Rushdie, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Martin Scorsese, Derek Walcott and Elie Wiesel.
• Whether or not they believed Christ was the son of God, nearly all agreed that he was a great thinker.
• There was a great respect for believers even when those interviewed didn't believe and for those of other faiths.
• The power of redemption has the ability to transform humans.
• Most have some semblance of a spiritual life, but maintain skepticism about codified religion and in most cases "the church."
• While some mentioned the hazards of a Godless world (Nazism, Communism), nearly all mentioned the great evil, violence and destruction done in the name of religion.
• Many were asked of religious artists whose work they valued and three mentioned Flannery O'Connor, which was more than any other artist named.
• An overwhelming refusal to declare absolutes.
Some of Monda's key questions included:
Do you believe?
What is your image of God?
What was your religious upbringing?
What will happen after death?
Comment on Dostoyevsky's phrase, "If God doesn't exist, everything is permitted."
The comment that most reflects my own spiritual journey was made by Martin Scorsese in response to Monda asking, "Do you believe in God?":
"I think that my faith in God lies in my constant searching."
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
My concern isn't the rift that has opened between Republican political practice and the vision of the nation's Founders, who made very clear in the Constitution that there would be no religious test for officeholders in their enlightened new republic. Rather, it's the gap between the teachings of the Gospels and the preachings of the Gospel's Own Party that has widened past the point of absurdity, even as the ostensible Christianization of the party proceeds apace.[snip]
But if Bush can conform his advocacy of preemptive war with Jesus's Sermon on the Mount admonition to turn the other cheek, he's a more creative theologian than we have given him credit for.—Harold Myerson writing in today's Washington Post
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
"We require higher tasks, because we do not recognise the height of those we have. Trying to be kind and honest seems an affair too simple and too inconsequential for gentlemen of our heroic mould; we had rather set ourselves to something bold, arduous, and conclusive; we had rather found a schism or suppress a heresy, cut off a hand or mortify an appetite. But the task before us, which is to co-endure with our existence, is rather one of microscopic fineness, and the heroism required is that of patience. There is no cutting of the Gordian knots of life; each must be smilingly unravelled." — Robert Louis Stevenson, "A Christmas Sermon"
Friday, December 14, 2007
To bury the dead
St. Ignatius student pallbearers provide a dignified burial when there's no one else around
By Wendy A. Hoke
The sun is shining brightly on this Feast of All Saints. The air is crisp, but golden maple leaves cast a warm glow across the gently rolling field.
St. Ignatius High School students and teachers are gathered in the center near a grove of trees for a solemn service that on this day will honor those whom they have carried to their final resting place.
Driving down Green Road just north of Harvard, this spot could easily miss. It’s sandwiched between a golf course and a recycling center. A battered wooden fence and narrow asphalt drive appear to lead nowhere.
But this is holy ground.
Cleveland’s Potter’s Field, where tens of thousands of Jane and John Does are buried with little more than a small wooden stake, if anything, as a marker of their life on this earth.
The leaders of the Joseph of Arimathea Society—pallbearers for those who have no family or friends to perform the service—have chosen this place annually to remember those whom society has forgotten and to honor those whom they have served throughout the year.
Aside from a large stone that serves as a communal marker, there’s little known about the inhabitants of Potter’s Field and little evidence of this even being a cemetery save a torn plastic flag, a crude cross made of two twigs lashed together, a statue of St. Francis and some plastic flowers.
Leaders of the Joseph of Arimathea Society honor the place by reading the names of the people whose caskets they have carried. For every 20 names a single bell tolls.
Grant them eternal rest, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine on them forever, for you are rich in mercy.
Named for the man who requested Jesus’ body from Pontius Pilate for a proper burial, the Joseph of Arimathea Society grew out of the work of the Christian Action Team, the umbrella organization for service activities at St. Ignatius High School. “We wanted to have service in place that accomplishes all the corporal works of mercy,” explains Ed DeVenney, campus minister.
Various programs feed and clothe the poor, tend to the sick and visit the lonely, but team leaders wanted to do more.
In 2003, St. Ignatius was the first high school in the country to provide the pallbearer service. It has necessarily grown to become the largest extracurricular activity at the Near West Side school. “It’s even bigger than football,” DeVenney says.
Open only to juniors and seniors, students are restricted to serving only one funeral per semester to limit time out of the classroom. The society averages about two funerals per week and has upwards of 300 members.
In service to God
Five of the student pallbearers gather in the office of campus ministry for last-minute instructions. It is their first time as pallbearers and they are quiet.
“I want you to pray and remind yourselves what it is you’re doing today,” says DeVenney. “You’re in service to God and to Mrs. (Marian) Lombardo. She has no one left in her life and there will probably be very few people at the church.
“Be prayerful, participate in the mass and remember that sometimes your voices are the only voices in the congregation,” he says.
As the navy blue St. Ignatius High School van pulls up in front of St. Stephen’s Church on West 54th Street, the boys face the reality of their advisor's words. With the exception of a Greek Orthodox bishop, they are the only ones in attendance at this funeral.
Inside the vestibule, funeral director Jim Craciun gives them instructions as they rest a hand on the casket and move slowly up the aisle.
“Out of all the funerals I've gone to, the church has always been filled … The experience for me was very moving, and I was glad that I could help celebrate the life of this woman and carry her to her final resting place,” wrote senior Alex Robertson later on the group’s blog for reflection.
A smile and a 'thank you'
At St. Bridget Parish, Parma, other boys are serving as pallbearers for a man who had a wife and friends, but no one able to handle the casket.
At the sign of peace, they go to the widow and one by one offer a promise of prayers and a compassionate hand showing maturity beyond their years.
The response from people is sometimes surprising to them, as senior Tommy Edgehouse wrote on the blog: “As we walked into the funeral home, I saw something I didn't expect to see. A smile on someone's face. The daughter of the late Mrs. Kanik greeted us with open arms and a most gracious ‘thank you.’ ”
“We’re just regular kids doing the simple service of carrying a casket, but it becomes so much more than that,” explains senior leader Louie Delgadillo. “They are not going to be forgotten because we are there to remember.”
It’s the little moments that tend to stick with the students.
“This summer we did a funeral for a homeless person whose body had been in the morgue for more than a month,” says senior leader Jon Hatgas.
They were expecting no one to come, but through their work with Labre Ministry in serving the homeless people on the streets of Cleveland they were able to bring more people.
“We had about 10 cars in the procession and on the way to the cemetery people were talking about Shawn and their connection to him,” Hatgas says.
“I know that we are never alone in faith,” wrote Jon’s twin brother Jeff Hatgas of his experience at the same funeral on the blog.
Jim Skerl, who founded the ministry as part of his work with Christian Action Team says this is a good way to involve students in the service of their faith.
“It’s interesting to see where God has led this ministry,” Skerl says, adding that it provides a chance for students to find their own goodness.
“We may not know their life story when we come to their funeral,” says senior leader Cameron Marcus, “but they are men and women of Christ and we share that in common.”
Hoke is a freelance writer.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Today, however, there are two wonderful blips.
U.S. News & World Reports ranks Bay High School among the top high schools in the nation with a Silver Award.
At last Friday's basketball game against Vermilion, apparently the two student sections were engaged in a shout-out that escalated as each student body tried to one-up the other. Vermilion's fans shouted, "How's your football team?"
Bay students chanted back, "Let's take a test!" That even drew a smile from Principal Jim Cahoon who was keeping close watch on the student section.
Bay senior girls' hoop star and D-1 recruit Lindsey Lowrie and her parents, Bob and Lisa, grace the front page of today's Locker Room section. Hope you get a chance to read the article because her parents are the antithesis of today's hovering parents. They also own Java Bay coffee shop and happen to be two of the nicest people around. If you stop in for a cuppa, be sure to say hello.
Congrats to all!
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
But there's also the Nieman Narrative Conference at Harvard, which takes place in Boston in March. This event used to take place in the fall, but with a change of directors it was pushed off until spring.
NYC or Boston? Hmmmm. Tough decisions. I've been to NYC three times in the past three years, but never to Boston. Though honestly, can you ever get enough of New York?
Given the expense of the cities involved, attending both is out of the question.
So do I go for the business of freelancing or the soul of writing?
My head tells me to go for the business, my heart wants the soulful stuff.
Do I want to network with people doing the kind of writing I most enjoy (narrative) or the people engaged in the kind of business model I most enjoy (freelance)?
I've been to ASJA before so I know generally what to expect from that experience. The work I got as a result of contacts made there in 2005 carries on today. I've heard mixed reviews about Nieman in the recent years, but it's also under new management this year.
I've also applied for a fellowship with the Peter Jennings Project for Journalists and the Constitution, run by the National Constitution Center. Given that I'm a freelancer without a beat I doubt I'll get the fellowship, but if I do that involves a trip to Philly in early March.
What to do, what to do...
Frederick M. Hess, AEI’s director of education policy studies, and Henry Olsen, director of AEI’s National Research Initiative, have announced a new AEI research effort to discover and promote original empirical work on K-12 school reform.
Codirected by Hess and Olsen, this education research project encompasses a wide range of important issues including federal education policy (such as No Child Left Behind), school governance, choice-based reform (such as vouchers, charter schools and tax incentives), school and district leadership, and teacher quality.
At the heart of this education research project is a working group consisting of twenty leading reform-minded U.S. researchers and educators. Trained in a variety of disciplines and approaching the challenges of K-12 reform from a range of perspectives, the working group will convene semiannually to suggest new lines of research, and to establish a respected forum for discussion of all new provocative K-12 education reform issues. The goal of the Future of American Education working group is not simply to rehash familiar arguments or to repackage previously published work, but to influence and encourage the national education debate for years to come. Its first meeting convened at AEI on December 12, 2007.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Monday, December 10, 2007
Friday, December 07, 2007
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
One of my fellow moms sent this video this afternoon. For all you moms out there, comedienne Anita Renfroe has condensed most momisms into a two and half minute tune set to the music of the William Tell Overture. If you search William Tell on iTunes it will bring up her video.
I'm surprised it hadn't already perished as e-mail and cell phones became tools nearly as important a pen and notebook. Still, there's a lot of history there and I sure hope someone at the NYT thinks to preserve for posterity.
Years ago, the Recording Room was, as Gay Talese put it to Off the Record, the “way station, the midwife” for foreign, national and even New York-based reporters who needed to phone in copy in a pinch. Without the aid of e-mail—let alone a laptop—the ability to dictate copy to a Recording Room operator was a reporter’s safety net, at a time when blowing deadlines and missing the morning paper carried a greater cost than it does in today’s electronic age.[snip]
Mr. Talese said he used the Recording Room for civil rights reporting in Alabama; Mr. (Arthur) Gelb said he used it to dictate reviews from Off Broadway plays from a phone booth on Second Avenue; and Mr. (Max) Frankel said he used the paper’s London Recording Room (which no longer exists) for his dispatches from Moscow. Mr. Frankel said he would take care to slur some of his sentences so as to foil the Soviet censor on the line.
Monday, December 03, 2007
Here's the background on a story brewing in the Twin Cities as reported on Poynter by Maryn McKenna, a freelancer who has caught my attention with two great posts in a sometimes so-so e-media column:
The question is: Should the Strib have named Kohler as a source in the story?
On Nov. 29 and 30, Twin Cities blogger Ed Kohler posted (here and here) on an emerging story involving Minneapolis-based Target Corp.: Students doing viral marketing for Target on Facebook were asked to conceal their affiliation with the company. Kohler's posts hat-tipped and expanded on posts by University of Georgia senior Rosie Siman, who revealed the concealment on Oct. 8. (In an Oct. 9 update, Siman posted that she'd learned the administrator for the Target Rounders program claims the original request was a "miscommunication.")
A few minutes before midnight on Nov. 30 the Star-Tribune published its version of the story online. They also bannered it across the front page of the Dec. 1 paper. The story quoted Siman, Target and Target's marketing arm. It did not mention Kohler's blog; even though referred to Target being "outed in online blogs."
Reporters often gather a lot of material that never gets used in an actual story but often informs the final story in the way of background. There are even interviews with sources that never see print but that help the reporter to give a story more context for the reader.
However, in this case, it appears that the Strib learned of the story from Kohler, that he did deeper digging on this story when he realized the traditional media had missed it. In that case, he and his blog should have been at least referenced as the original source of the story. Give it the mainstream equivalent of a hat tip.
There's a squabble over whether or not Kohler was the original source of the story or whether he just furthered it along. Either way, I think reporters can't just grab material from bloggers without at least indicating where they found the information. At the very least, talk to the blogger via comments or offline, explain what you're working on and ask to chat further because it's possible and probably likely that the blogger has even more info and sources that he or she has not yet shared. It appears the Strib reporter did that, but then still neglected to attribute Kohler as a source.
Traditional reporters cannot be obtuse about the nature of such relationships. The net result of transparency and cooperative reporting is even stronger coverage of everything from politics to business, education to city hall.
The Minnesota Monitor (a cool site similar to what I'd like to see happen in Cleveland) picks up the argument here.
What do you think?
Should journalists credit bloggers? If so, under what circumstances?
Do you think reporters and bloggers should nurture source relationships?
Have you any experience doing so either as a journalist or a blogger?
Have you any experience working with a reporter or a blogger to improve coverage of certain issues?
Ever get the feeling your e-mails are being blocked by some cyber Big Brother? E-mail traffic has been very light the past week and it gives me the creeps. I know my e-mail is working because I've chatted with a few friends and my assortment of daily news updates arrives on schedule. Work wise...it's been eerily quiet.
I went so far as to call AT&T tech support on Friday to make sure my e-mail settings were correct. Interestingly, I learned that AT&T is primarily a home service and so it automatically blocks things from some major domains that send out mass quantities of e-mails. If I could list the domains where I receive e-mail they could check to see that those are not blocked from my account. Could take a while. Ah, gee, thanks, but no.
Instead, I'm using my gmail account for work correspondence: wendyhoke(at)gmail(dot)com. Feel free to drop me a line to let me know it still works.
I should probably enjoy the momentary peace, but alas peace translates into no new assignments, which means no new paychecks. Writers are nothing if they are not needy and paranoid.