Monday, November 21, 2011

Why Kirk Cameron drives me crazy

I'm back after a few months in need of a soap box, but I hope just this once I can be excused. I've been meaning to write about someone extremely popular in the evangelical world.

His name is Kirk Cameron. If you're immediately thinking of the young, sarcastic heartthrob of the 80s sitcom "Growing Pains," you've got the same guy.

During his tenure on the show, Cameron had a radical conversion experience that led him to Christ. Awesome.

His castmates would say years later that Cameron often pushed his new zeal on them, and ties remained strained in several cases, if not broken entirely.

After "Growing Pains" was canceled in 1992, Cameron focused his acting career on Christian films and preaching. First came the post-Rapture "Left Behind" movies, fire-and-brimstone imaginings of what life would be like for the unsaved before the Second Coming of Christ. Hello, sensationalism.

Recently, he starred in "Fireproof," a drama about a broken marriage healed through faith. (Keep your eyes open: I may review it here soon.)

A few years ago, Cameron hooked up with itinerant minister Ray Comfort. The two founded The Way of the Master, a ministry equipping Christians to go out there and WIN SOME SOULS.

Ahem. Let me give you an example of his methods.

Have you ever told a lie? Someone who has told a lie is a liar. And what does the Bible say of liars, you ask? I'll tell you: they're not fit for the Kingdom of God. They go to hell -- just like you will, if you don't accept Jesus right now. Today. What do you choose?

This is The Way of the Master -- Cameron's way -- of telling people about the mercy of Christ. I imagine he's been successful, but have to ask one question: do any of these people come to Jesus because they want to? Because they're ready to be forgiven and loved? Or do they come out of fear?

Unfortunately, I've seen countless people get saved this way, and they either fall away shortly thereafter or continue on with a stunted, warped view of who Jesus is and what our faith is really about.

This way of thinking was pushed on me years ago and I resisted, knowing that I could only embrace Christianity if I did it for me. The friends I keep from those early days were the ones who loved me right then, as I was, paganism and brokenness be damned. That's what He did, after all. Love. Not condemn.

Fear-mongering may be effective, but it's also cruel and damaging. God is waiting to cover us with mercy and dignity, not drop the guillotine.

I just hope those souls Cameron "wins" know that, too.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Being Catholic

I've been neglecting this place. I'm sorry. I'm barreling through my final days as a college student, and lately it seems that I've been trying to drink dry every moment of them.

Life should be like that. And sometimes, I find myself so consumed by the thought of, "Oh! I need to remember this so I can blog/tweet/Facebook/whatever it later!" that the experience I was trying to capture has passed by.

So, I've spent the last little while just observing. It feels good.

Two weeks ago now we were about to enter the Triduum, the three holiest days of the year (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil). On Holy Thursday, I was working on deadline and panicked because everything hinged on a phone call. The call had to come that day, or I would be stuck until after the holiday. I carried my cell phone with me everywhere, and ironically when it rang, there were only 15 minutes to spare. (I was also in the bathroom at the time. So this is what journalism is about...)

With work behind me just in time, I flew down the block to St. Bridget's for Mass. When I slid into the pew and onto my knees, it took a long time to slow down my brain.

"Lift up your hearts," the priest tells us before Communion. We respond, "We lift them up to the Lord." For me, lifting up your heart means to leave behind your "life junk" for a while. I took a breath and steadied myself.

The Our Father came shortly after that as it always does, and my friends and I all reached for one another's hands. All around us, people did the same, and as incense floated over down over our heads, I could hear two languages chanting the prayer together.

That happens every day at Mass. But when I stopped and really listened, I was amazed at how much I missed around me.

Catholicism, more than any other flavor of Christianity, is so physical. Going to Mass slams all of your senses. Every gesture and word has a reason and purpose. All of those sounds and smells and tastes are tools that bring us closer to God.

The best part is that despite how different that huge crowd is, for an hour or so, we're identical. Maybe that's why we call ourselves catholic -- universal.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Redemption spells disaster on "Redemption Island"

I'm here on a Wednesday night. Everybody get excited!

I was going to write about the concert I went to this weekend, and might still do that on Friday if I'm not too busy (it was amazing). But tonight, something is grinding my gears.

It's the latest reincarnation of "Survivor."

I know, I know. Feel free to stop here. I won't hate you.

The 22nd season, called "Redemption Island," has an interesting twist. Those familiar with the premise know that when you get voted off by your tribe, that's it. This time, you go to Redemption Island alone. The next person voted off will compete in a duel with the current inhabitant. The loser is gone for good, but the winner remains on the island. At a certain point, he or she can re-enter the game.

Last chance: there are spoilers ahead.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Walking in the Desert

It's been a solid month but here I am. :) For the curious, I was given two weeks off from this assignment for spring break, and then one more while my advisor caught up on everything. I'm alive and well!

There's a lot I want to talk about today, like I promised in my last entry ... but let's take a collective breath.

We entered Lent three weeks ago. It's always an interesting experience to wake up that morning, make yourself pretty (the Bible tells us that when we fast, we shouldn't do anything out of the ordinary with our appearance), skip breakfast, skip lunch...

And then you'll kneel at the altar in a little basement chapel off campus before your best friend makes a cross of palm ashes on your forehead. Ashes...we started out that way, some say, and eventually we'll end up that way again.

Nothing is permanent. Life is fragile.

"Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel," your friend tells you as she finishes marking you. You're now of a crowd, students and faculty and staff all with little smudges on their heads. But it's a sign to the rest of the world that we've chosen to set ourselves apart and start a journey.

It always chills me a little. Can you blame me? Jesus walked through the desert for 40 days, starving and tempted, to strengthen His resolve before beginning His ministry. Now, as we wait for Easter, we're called to the same experience -- to enter the desert and come out stronger.

Seriousness aside, in general Lent is a period of introspection, reflection and self-discipline. Most people make some sort of sacrifice, or pick up a new, positive habit.

For me, that means getting eight hours of sleep every night, no matter what. I'm infamous for keeping insane hours, and it's not uncommon for me to turn in around dawn. Naturally, it was messing up my physical and emotional health, and change was necessary.

Three weeks into it, I'm amazed at how much better I feel in the morning. At night, I've learned to manage my time so all my work gets done while leaving room for some reading. "Me time."

Every year, I take away something different from this season of the Church year. Some years are more intense or less successful. This year, I'm learning to be committed to the goals I set. That carries over to my spiritual life, too.

Here's a great song about what Lent means in Catholicism, sung by Matt Maher. I'm going to see him in concert tonight. Look out for a review next week.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Movin' on up!

A couple years ago when I was new to Rowan, I went through a breakup and found myself questioning if I had done the right thing. My chaplain had me do a silly card trick with him -- you know, the kind where he finds your card in a shuffled deck. The point was that no matter what I do to mix up my life, as long as I sincerely seek God, I'll receive whatever is best for me and shouldn't worry.

I remembered that moment last week when I got a casual email from a journalist I know, explaining that her publication wanted to talk with me about a part-time position they were creating. Two days and a 0-minute interview later, I walked out with a post-graduation job in the field.

God is so interesting.

After a weekend of panic, I settled into the idea of running a monthly mini-magazine. Essentially, being a Christian is accepting whatever curve balls come your way gracefully. I'm thrilled about this opportunity, and suppose that it means God thinks I can handle it. That's a note of confidence for me. :)

It's starting to hit me that suddenly, with this job, my adulthood has finally arrived. The moment I've been working toward since I was 17 is suddenly staring me in the face. It's a little intimidating and strange imagining that I'm closing this chapter of my life -- college life -- and starting over. But at the same time, I know that I've been  stuffed with all these crazy multimedia skills in order to do something like this, so it's not unfamiliar. Just...large. And that's okay.

I promise I'll have more to write about starting with next week's entry -- we're entering Lent on Wednesday, so lots will be going on. Thanks for coming along with me.

Friday, February 25, 2011

A New Objectivity

I've got to admit, I've got writer's block today. There are a couple things I could write about, but I'll hold off on them, at least for this week.

The issue of objectivity in journalism is something that has been on my mind lately. Recently, I visited the Facebook page of a reporter acquaintance, and noticed his political and religious view sections read, "Not allowed to have any." Others have written "Journalism" into those spots.

Let me say that I have nothing against doing that; in fact, I think it's actually pretty funny. But I do believe that it points to a sticky issue in the field that many of those just starting out struggle with.

A lot of journalists believe that we're not supposed to have opinions. And if we do, God help us (oops, that was a religious observation...) if we state it aloud.

Of course, the reasons for that are definitely sound ones. Our profession requires a great deal of responsibility, ethics and trustworthiness. Our audiences need to know that we're not going to let our opinions get in the way of our jobs.

But -- and this is just my personal belief -- I don't think that means we should necessarily have to put our opinions in a box when we take a job. We are still people, after all. We're not sterilized robots. A good journalist will be able to do his or her job fairly, regardless of their feelings on the issue being covered.

Now, I know that if our opinions are well-known, there may be some skepticism or suspicion among our readers. But frankly, look at the unfortunate state of many papers and TV networks today where editorializing is the norm. People are already suspicious.

How often do you hear people saying CNN is liberal and Fox News is conservative? How many people have suggested the "mainstream media" is pandering to the government? I've actually been told that all reporters have a liberal agenda. I guess they don't know me very well.

Maybe if we were more open about what it is we believe, it would put those worries to rest because no one would have to wonder. And if we did allow our opinions to slip through, audiences would be able to spot it quickly and easy, and call us out for it.

In short, what I'm trying to say is that there needs to be greater transparency in journalism if we want to earn the respect and trust of the country again.

I like the ethics policy over at (I am not affiliated with them in any way, just so that's clear.)

At Patch, we promise always to report the facts as objectively as possible and otherwise adhere to the principles of good journalism. However, we also acknowledge that true impartiality is impossible because human beings have beliefs. So in the spirit of simple honesty, our policy is to encourage our editors to reveal their beliefs to the extent they feel comfortable. This disclosure is not a license for them to inject their beliefs into stories or to dictate coverage according to them. In fact, the intent is the opposite: we hope that the knowledge that their beliefs are on the record will cause them to be ever mindful to write, report and edit in a fair, balanced way. And if you ever see evidence that we failed in this mission, please let us know.

Friday, February 18, 2011


In class the other day, we were talking about the changing role of gatekeepers in this new era of journalism. Not too long ago, those in news were seen as trustworthy, authoritative and even infallible by some. We journalists were the only ones that knew the whole story, and we had the power to inform and educate the rest of the world. If we stayed silent, the people wouldn't know. If we lied, most of the time it would go unnoticed.

Today, with the rise of the Internet, social media and citizen journalism, anyone can be their own editor or reporter. Those involved in formal news outlets don't have the same influence and power they once did, and unfortunately the ethical errors of some reporters have ruined the reputation of the whole bunch.

I had an epiphany some time after that. The rise and fall of gatekeeping can be found somewhere else that might be unexpected: the Catholic Church! (Yeah, I know it's strange...bear with me.)

One of the central Bible passages that influenced the early Church is found in St. Matthew's Gospel. Here's the exchange between the Apostle Simon and Jesus (verses 13-19, NAB):

When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?"

They replied, "Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets."

He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"

Simon Peter said in reply, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."

Jesus said to him in reply, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

There's a lot of weighty stuff here. But the important thing is Simon gets a new name, Petros, which is Greek for "rock." This is confirmed by St. Paul later, as he refers to Peter as Cephas. This is Aramaic for the same term.

Jesus, the cornerstone and head of the Church, made Peter the earthly foundation and authority for the twelve Apostles. He has been granted a position of leadership that Jesus says will be respected both here and in heaven. In short, this is where we find our support for our hierarchy and the Pope; Peter passed on the authority given to him by Christ to other men who came after him. This lineage remains unbroken and the Church still stands firm despite some horrible Popes and bishops over the years. The fact that we haven't fallen apart is a sign of God's grace at work, for sure.

The parallels here are really surprising, if you think about it. A once implicitly trusted leader is now met at every turn with skepticism, ridicule and defiance. The more recent popes have been called misogynistic, pedophiles, legalists, hate-filled, irrelevant and archaic. And these days, every time a story with great impact is written, eyes roll and heads shake. "Well, you know how the media is today," people will say with disgust.

Still, both in journalism and Catholicism, there are an increasing number of those bringing hope and true accountability to their respective organizations.

I don't know if it will be enough to "fix" journalism in its present form, but at least in the Church I can believe confidently that no matter what, "The gates of hell will not prevail."

Friday, February 11, 2011

Against the Grain

I would be remiss if I didn't talk a little bit about the retreat last weekend, which was a lot of fun. The mansion holds so many memories for the upperclassmen who have been there before, and it was particularly meaningful for the seniors graduating in just a few months.

The topic for the retreat focused on living an authentically Catholic sexuality as a young adult. Heaven knows anyone trying to avoid the prevalence of lust and greed in the media is going to have a hard time. We all do, and this weekend we were given tools to make the fight to stay pure a little less agonizing.

It's the job of the media to inform and educate our audiences, but we also carry the added responsibility of influence. Whether we mean it or not, audiences take their cues from TV, print media, and the Web. And unless you've been living in a cave for the last few decades, you've probably seen how pervasive and damaging some of the content is.

Drugs. Excessive drinking. Meaningless sex with any number of people in any number of ways. Objectification. Oppression. Bullying. Violence.

There's also the porn industry, which due to its sheer size and spread deserves a category of its own. Understand, the Church sees sex the most intimate, holy thing that two people can give to each other. They give themselves freely and fully, without reserve and with complete trust. Sex has incredible power over humanity, and it has the potential to create and bond, or destroy and demean. It's not something you want to mess around with, (This, in a nutshell, is why we take strong positions against extramarital sex and birth control.)

One of the poignant moments of the weekend for me was when we split into groups by gender for a private discussion. For the ladies, we all expressed frustration with the way virginity is stigmatized. If you've not had sex by the time you're about 25, most of the world considers you doomed or somehow defective. And porn has created an inaccurate picture of what sex is, and who women are. Many of us carry the secret that we have been made into victims and objects because of it. More than anything, women want to stand up and support the men in our life as they try to honor us. And at the end of the day, we only want to be honored, too.

Check out this clip from the ABC hit drama Grey's Anatomy. It came up in oue discussion and accurately shows the way virginity is treated today:

It was super encouraging to be surrounded by 15 women who all support each other, even when we screw up. And I'm so blessed to have met many strong, Catholic gentlemen who are on the front lines defending our dignity. One day, I believe God will point one out to me.

Until then, I'm a 21-year-old virgin. I've been single for over a year. And you know, it's not so bad.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Catholic Tech

Over the past several ears, our culture has become increasingly bound to our technology. We're device-oriented now in a way we never were before -- I've seen people on campus walk across the street wearing headphones and texting without even looking first.

Some churches has seen declining numbers, and often the people want to blame this on their style of worship. The music might be too "traditional" or "boring." Using social media in a service may be frowned upon. Or maybe, as it is in my church, going to Mass is set aside for worship, and so unrelated conversation happens before or after that.

The world today wants to connect and be engaged everywhere they go. For youth, it might seem like the only way to get their attention is with flashy lights, rock bands and iPhone apps. (Of course, this certainly doesn't apply to every kid or young adult, but it's definitely becoming more common.

What is the Catholic Church doing to keep the attention of our changing media and society? The answers might surprise you.

At the recent address for the World Day of Communications, Pope Benedict gave an important piece of advice to young people: "Make good use of your presence in the digital world." And he gives us a good example to follow. The man has his own Facebook application and YouTube channel.

There are also quite a few very useful Catholic apps for the iPhone/Pod/Pad. Some of these include iMissal, which offers the daily Scripture readings and prayers used at Mass for the next 50 years; Confession, an app that is password protected and helps penitents prepare to confess with questions and prayers; and iPieta, an app that includes the full Liturgy of the Hours, writings of the saints and popes, and Scripture. The Bible is also available in virtually every translation you can think of. They are all worthy investments, for sure (though in full disclosure, I only have two of those).

It's certainly a good time to be alive for Catholic techies. :) Though sometimes, it's necessary to pull away from it all. I'm leaving now for retreat with my Catholic Campus Ministry friends, my last as a Rowan student. Check back next week for a reflection, and please keep us in your prayers.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Media and the March

Hi! I'm back. :)

This week, I want to talk about an event that consistently makes an impact on both the Christian and secular world: the March for Life held annually in Washington, D.C. But this time, you won't hear me talking about the Church's stance on abortion.

My issue this time is with my colleagues in the media.

First, some background: after the resolution of Roe vs. Wade and its companion case, Doe v. Bolton in 1973, the right to terminate a pregnancy on demand was declared a constitutional right for all.

One year later, anti-abortion advocates gathered at the Supreme Court to protest the decision and demand its reversal. They have done so every year since with increasing numbers, diversity and passion.

The 38th annual March for Life was held this past Monday, with an estimated 400,000 people, 50 members of the House of Representatives and one senator in attendance.

That's almost half a million people.

But ironically, you would never notice this by turning on the evening news or opening up the paper in the following days.

In fact, the media has been consistently notorious for avoiding any mention of the March, and when it is covered, the information presented is usually misrepresented and biased.

Let me say clearly that I'm not speaking as a Catholic as I write this. I'm speaking as a journalist who is confused by the almost universal error in judgment.

To show you what I mean, here is a traditional list of the eight elements of newsworthiness that have been drilled into my head since I was 18. Since then, I've done tons of exercises in the classroom to root out these elements in current events.

There is plenty of conflict in this story, one that has remained close to the top of political debates for decades now. And it was obviously timely with the anniversary of such a landmark set of cases.

The sheer number of people and delegates rallying at the Capitol and in smaller gatherings nationwide (like the Walk for Life West Coast in California) fulfills consequence and prominence -- it's hard to get half a million people to do much of anything, let alone gather for one cause.

Abortion is an issue that stirs the emotions of people on both sides of the debate, and affects every single person who has a child. That's something that appeals to human interest.

We can also say it's a good variety story because of the diversity of the people present. Christians from many denominations that typically argue over doctrine came together to pray. Feminists, men, old people, tens of thousands of youth of every race were all present. A friend who was there told me that he even saw a sign that read "Atheist Anarchists for Life."

So...that's six out of eight. Where was the coverage? Aside from Catholic broadcasting outlets like EWTN, it's anybody's guess. Do a Google search. Where are the prominent news names we expect to see?

Why are we letting our audience down?