Father Bob

The Washington Post ran a simple yet beautiful story yesterday on "Father Bob," an Air Force chaplain who greets the remains of US soldiers.

Father Bob is Robert Cannon, a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserve, currently on active duty. The reporter for this piece just got out of the way and watched him work.

The moment, he said, is for him and the dead and God. Although it may be a solemn, even beautiful, occasion, it is no spectacle, he said. It is the military's way of welcoming fallen warriors home from the battlefield and honoring them, as well. No matter how many prayers Cannon writes, he continues to be awed and humbled by the sacrifice.

"Lord God, we stand humbly before these valiant Marines," he said in a recent service aboard the plane. "It is our deep and sacred honor to welcome them home once again. . . . Bless their fellow Marines with whom they served. Protect and guard them. May the bravery of these Marines strengthen our resolve in the difficult work of laying the foundation for peace in our time."

There are a number of small details, mentioned almost in passing, that reporter Christian Davenport got right. Like how some of the bodies have had such violence done to them that they can only be indentified by
" DNA, dental records or fingerprints." Father Bob watches over the people caring for the bodies as well, knowing that what they see can be overwhelming.

Some months back, the Chicago Tribune ran a series of stories on the human cost of the war in Iraq (I don't think they are online). One showed a woman washing the body of her little girl, who was killed in the US-led invastion, a collateral casualty of war. It was a haunting image.

So too is this small bit of the Post story. Cannon, who will go to Iraq in September, said he tries to tune out news from the war--he's seen too much of the aftermath firsthand. But it doesn't always work.

Just last week, he saw the story of the three Marines, including Lance Cpl. Patrick Adle, 21, of Bel Air, Md., killed in Baghdad by a roadside bomb.

When he saw the news, he knew their remains could arrive at Dover anytime, and he began thinking of what he would say on their behalf.


Ask a Follow Up Question

(slighly updated version)

So John Kerry's on a bus with a reporter from the Dubuque Telegraph Herald, (after attending Mass and receiving communion), and says this:

"I don't like abortion. I believe life does begin at conception . . . But I can't take my Catholic belief, article of faith, and legislate it on a Protestant or a Jew or an atheist ... We have separation of church and state in the United States of America."

Oh, for a followup question.

Just like a reporter needs to push George W. Bush of how his economic and foreign policies contradict the teachings of Jesus, his favorite political philosopher, (or why he thinks Jesus would approve of torture)--reporters need to push Senator Kerry on this.

There's the simple one the Globe asked today: the Boston Globe asked today, --why he has never claim to holded this specific belief before.

Or the more interesting one--why does he think acting on his beliefs violates the separation of church and state?
What's implied is a separation of religion and politics--that this candidate's personal beliefs (or values) have no bearing on politics. That it's a matter of private principle, not public action.

It'd be different, for example, if Kerry had been asked a specifically theological question--like, what does he think of the Trinity or women priests or on who gets to go to heaven--which has no bearing on governance.

But this response makes me wonder--if Senator Kerry doesn't follow his beliefs or values, what criteria does he use to make decisions? How does he decide what beliefs to follow and which not to follow? Does he have some core ethical values to shape his decisions.

Just one of these would do, please.


From Across the Pond

If you didn't know better, you'd swear that this piece on new ultrasound technology came right out a prolife journal.

New ultrasound pictures of a foetus show it toddling at 12 weeks, yawning at 15 and smiling at 18. What is the public reaction? Are we
awestruck at this manifestation of the quickening within the womb that every mother feels?

Do we recognise ourselves, our children and our children's children
in what is visibly a tiny human being? No, people are more likely to
reflect uneasily on the fact that tens of thousands of foetuses just
like this are legally aborted before they are born.

The piece is actually a editorial from the Telegraph of London. It questions how abortion is practiced in the UK, at a time when infertility and shrinking populations are major concerns. Coming outside of the US culture wars and the election-year politicing, it's perspective that is at least worth listening to.

There is something amiss in a society in which abortion is too easy and adoption too difficult; in which conception, frowned on in fertile youth, is postponed until the onset of infertile middle age; in which reproduction is entrusted to doctors; in which old age is prolonged by embryonic stem cells.

Such a society will be blighted by its own sterility.


Bad, Lazy Blogger

The newest issue of "Religion in the News" from The Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life is online, and it's got a great editorial from editor Mark Silk.

Silk takes on Christian Smith, a sociology professor at Chapel Hill, who's piece on "Religiously Ignorant Journalists" caused a stir some months back.

Here's his beef:

Today I received a phone message from a journalist from a major Dallas newspaper who wanted to talk to me about a story he was writing about "Episcopals," about how the controversy over the 2003 General Convention's approval of the homosexual bishop, Gene Robinson, would affect "Episcopals." What an embarrassment. How do I break the news to him that there are no "Episcopals"? Actually, they are called Episcopalians. Of greater concern, I wonder how this journalist is going to write an informed and informing story in a few days about such an important and complex matter when he doesn't even know enough in starting to call his subjects by their right name.

A number of bloggers and religion journalists took him on, including John Dart.
Diane Winston.
(Heck, I even tried)

But Silk, unlike the bloggers or Dr. Smith, it appears, tracked down the article in question to see how it turned out.

The horror, the horror. Of course, given that his article appeared months after the General Convention, Smith might, like any minimally scrupulous journalist, have taken the trouble to see if his concern was warranted.

As it turned out, the 1,500-word article on the subject that ran August 16 in the Dallas Morning News—the only existing “major Dallas newspaper”—not only used the terms “Episcopal” and “Episcopalian” correctly but also happened to be informed and informing. From this Smith could have concluded that the reporter, Jeffrey Weiss, was either a wonderfully quick study or not nearly as ignorant as his voice message seemed to suggest.

So maybe I'm beating a dead horse here, but DUH!! The first question that we ought to have asked of Dr. Smith's article is, as the old saying goes, "Where's the beef?" Where's the religiously ignorant story that this religiously ignorant journalist turned out.

It doesn't exist. Oops.


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