Getting Religion in Cross-Cultural News

September 22, 2018 § Leave a comment

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Have you every been to GetReligion? Edited by columnist Terry Mattingly, it’s a site that covers news coverage of religious issues. The authors, journalists themselves, point out areas where media personnel ignore or play down the spiritual aspects of news, fail to pursue spiritual leads when they are uncovered or hinted at (they call those “holy ghosts”), or demonstrate an ignorance of things religious. On the other hand, they also draw attention to journalists who show a keen understanding of religion and its impact.

The title of the site comes from a former senior political analyst at CNN, William Schneider, who once said, “On the national level, the press is one of the most secular institutions in American society. It just doesn’t get religion or any idea that flows from religious conviction.”

GetReligion wasn’t set up to target today’s much-referenced idea of “fake news,” as the blog’s origin in 2004 easily predates Donald Trump’s accusations. Its authors are also too broad and nuanced in their viewpoints to simply parrot political (or presidential) perspectives. And the stories they comment on reach well beyond the boundaries, and national concerns, of the US.

Every so often, GetReligion writers delve into their “guilt files,” where they keep stories  that they’ve wanted to write about but haven’t gotten to yet. I have my own guilt file for GetReligion, as over time, I’ve collected bookmarks from their site for posts that I’d like to comment on, all of which deal with cross-cultural issues.

Here are a few of them. If you’ve not been over there before, may these serve as entry points into the territory of GetReligion.

“Should Amazon Tribes Be Allowed to Kill Their Young? Foreign Policy Editors Aren’t Sure” (June 6, 2018)

Julia Duin’s subject is a Foreign Policy article that discusses a bill currently under debate in Brazil. If passed, the law will aim to stop indigenous tribes from committing infanticide and killing certain older children. That’s because, writes Cleuci de Oliveira, some Amazon tribes in Brazil see disabled children, the children of single mothers, twins, and children who identify as transgender as “bad omens” and believe they should not be allowed to live.

Not only is this practice controversial, but so is the law opposing it. On one side are those who agree with YWAM missionaries Marcia and Edson Suzuki. The couple helped formulate the bill and have founded a nonprofit to save endangered children from death. On the other side are those who see child-killing as a part of the tribes’ cultures and, as such, something that should be protected. The Brazilian Association of Anthropology says that the law would continue a history of colonization and violence toward indigenous peoples, “the most repressive and lethal actions ever perpetrated against the indigenous peoples of the Americas, which were unfailingly justified through appeals to noble causes, humanitarian values and universal principles.”

Duin wonders, what with today’s atmosphere of advocacy journalism, why Foreign Policy seems to play it down the middle rather than taking the side of the disabled children. She asks, “Isn’t infanticide one of those issues that doesn’t require debate?”

“Reporting on the Unthinkable: Ancient, Multicultural Roots of Female Genital Mutilation” (June 9, 2018)

In this post, Terry Mattingly highlights an essay in The Media Project on the violent and oppressive practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), writing, “Reporters and editors will want to file the information, and the sources, for future reporting projects on this issue.” Mattingly cites several “stunning facts” from the article, written by Jenny Taylor, which include the following:

  • FGM predates both Christianity and Islam, with Egyptian mummies showing clear signs of the practice.
  • In areas of Sudan without access to antibiotics, up to one-third of girls who are subjected to FGM will die.
  • UNICEF reports that 200 million women and girls living today have undergone FGM, with more than half living in Egypt, Ethiopia, and Indonesia.
  • In Tanzania, more Christians than Muslims practice “female circumcision.”
  • Even though FGM has been outlawed in the UK since 1985, no prosecution against it has succeeded. Tayor writes that this is because “the West is slow to tackle it for fear of being accused of racism.”

And chief among the article’s sources is Ann-Marie Wilson, founder of 28 Too Many, a British nonprofit with the goal of eliminating FGM in the 28 countries that allowed it at the time the charity was formed. (Since then, six have made it illegal.)

“The root of the problem is beyond just the physical,” says Wilson, “the root is spiritual and religious and that can only be approached in love.”

“Jehovah’s Witnesses: Why Some Persecuted Faiths Grab Consistent Headlines and Others Don’t” (August 7, 2018)

“The world is inundated with sad examples of persecuted religious, ethnic and racial minorities,” writes Ira Rifkin for GetReligion. So he asks, “Why do some persecuted minorities trigger persistent journalistic attention while others do not?”

Rifkin looks at an article in The Los Angeles Times about Jehovah’s Witnesses who have fled Russia and are seeking asylum in Finland. This is the result of a 2017 decision by the Russian Supreme Court to outlaw the religion, saying that its adherents are members of an extremist group. This has resulted in persecution and the threat of imprisonment for Russian’s approximately 175,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses. Geraldine Fagan, author of Believing in Russia: Religious Policy after Communism, calls this “easily the worst attack on religious freedom in post-Soviet Russia.”

But while there has been sporadic coverage of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ plight in the news, journalists in the west have given more attention to groups such as the Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar, European Jews, and Tibetan Buddhists. Why is that? The “short answer,” writes Rifkin, is

Groups that are relatively small and politically insignificant or are oppressed by powerful governments—Russia in the case of Jehovah’s Witnesses—get far less ongoing coverage than groups connected to globally significant constituencies. Think Christians in North Korea and China, for example.

Take a look at the rest of Rifkin’s post for the long answer.

And take a look at GetReligion for a religion-informed take on the news.

(Terry Mattingly, “The Mainstream Press ‘Just Doesn’t Get Religion,'” GetReligion, March 7, 2004; Cleuci de Oliveira, “The Right to Kill: Should Brazil Keep Its Amazon Tribes from Taking the Lives of Their Children?Foreign Policy, April 9, 2018; Jenny Taylor, “Fighting FGM Is a Spiritual War,” The Media Project, May 2018; Sabra Ayres, “Facing Religious Persecution in Russia, Jehovah’s Witnesses Find Refuge in Finland,” The Los Angeles Times, August 3, 2018)

[photo: “Newsstand,” by Thomas Hawk, used under a Creative Commons license]

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Beetles, 2, 3, 4

August 23, 2018 § Leave a comment


“Loveland Woman Creates Insect Farms to Feed African Orphans”

Loveland resident Amy Franklin found a solution for the hunger and malnutrition besetting Congolese orphanages in a delicacy that thrives in the wild in the African country—the palm weevil.

With no land for traditional farming, she has created small “farms” inside plastic containers to raise larvae, which are a protein-rich food source that can be farmed inside small rooms within the orphanages themselves.

“These orphanages are blocked in on every side by concrete and buildings,” said Franklin, who established Farms for Orphans, a nonprofit, with her husband, Alan. “They don’t have any land. They can’t even grow a small garden or any type of livestock production.”

. . . . .

The palm weevil is a beetle native to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The larvae, which thrive within readily available sugar cane, are packed with protein as well as other nutrients, said Franklin.

. . . . .

They taste like breakfast sausages, Franklin said, and 10-12 grubs can meet a child’s daily recommended nutritional needs.

Pamela Johnson, Loveland News, Reporter-Herald, July 29, 2018

Have a Taste for Cross-cultural Movies?

September 2, 2017 § Leave a comment

I’ve not had much time to write lately, but I did take a few minutes to browse some movie trailers. There are quite a few films making he rounds that deal with cross-cultural themes, and some for which the culture crossing comes (at least from an American’s point of view) in the act of watching the movie itself.

I probably won’t end up seeing most of these, but in the absence of a full meal, appetizers can hit the spot.

The Syrian Refugee Crisis: Stories and Faces to Put with the Headlines

February 14, 2017 § Leave a comment

I want my daughters to tell people how we ended up here, whether it’s in a book, in a film, or just an answer to “What’s wrong?” That’s all I want.

—a Syrian refugee in Greece, in Refuge

22527575640_ce96708328_zAs I’ve read, and watched, more about the Syrian refugee crises, I came across two powerful videos. I decided not to include them in my post last week, because they’re  on the longer side (around 20 minutes each), and I wanted to bring more attention to them in a post of their own.

The first one, Refuge: Human Stories from the Refugee Crisis, lets a number of Syrian refugees speak to the camera. In Making Refuge: Behind the Scenes of the Refuge Project, the film’s director, Matthew K. Firpo, tells why he and his crew made the trip to meet the Syrians in Greece:

We wanted to focus on the simple, important fact that every refugee is a human being, with hopes and losses and families just like each of us. And in sharing their stories, we wanted audiences to understand what it means to leave behind everything you know, to finally have faces to put to headlines.

In the next video, The Island of All Together, Syrians who have arrived on Lesvos (Lesbos) as refugees sit down to talk with Europeans who have come to the Greek island as vacationers. What a wonderful idea.

They pairs converse on a range of topics, some profound, some mundane, all poignant in their simplicity and touching openness. In one conversation, Otis asks the Syrian Rashad what he would do with a million Euros.

Rashad: A million Euros? I would help all of the people who have not been able to flee Syria.

Otis: That’s beautiful.

Rashad: And what would you do with a million?

Otis: I would buy a nice car, pay for my education, and give the rest to charities.

Rashad: I hope that God gives you a beautiful car. . . . I had to sell my car in Syria to get the money to come here.

Otis: What kind of car did you have?

Rashad: I had a Kia Morning.

Otis: I now have a Citroen Saxo.


[photo: “Refugee Crisis in Europe,” by CAFOD Photo Library, used under a Creative Commons license]

Why I Don’t Pray for the Syrian Refugees

February 11, 2017 § 2 Comments

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Since the start of Syria’s civil war, 12.5 million Syrians have been displaced, including 4.8 million living as refugees in other countries, with the rest forced out of their homes but still living in Syria. According to the Pew Research Center, this total number represents 60% of the country’s population of 2011, before the conflict began. The center calls the situation of Syrian displacement “unprecedented in recent history for a single country,” part of a global crisis that has nearly 1 out of 100 people worldwide forcibly displaced—the highest percentage since UNHCR began collecting those numbers in 1951.

In the face of this, a survey from World Vision and Ipsos Public Affairs shows that currently only 14% of Americans “pray for refugees and the conflict in Syria.” This is down from 22% in 2015. Of those surveyed who self-identify as “committed Christians,” 41% say that they are willing to pray, but only 19% actually do so. These numbers, too, are lower than a year ago, when 51% said they were willing to pray, with 30% praying.

If I had been contacted for the survey when it was held in September of last year, I would have described myself as a committed Christian. I also would have told them that I don’t pray for the Syrians. Here’s why:

  • I’m pretty busy, and it’s hard to find time to pray at all, even for my family and for personal issues.
  • I don’t understand what’s going on in Syria well enough to know how to pray intelligently. Who are the good guys? Who are the bad guys? The situation seems so complex—politically, culturally, and religiously—and it seems to change constantly.
  • Whatever outcome that we can hope for will be a very long time coming. It’s taken so many years to get to this place, and there are no quick solutions. I can’t commit to praying indefinitely.
  • It seems as if one tragedy after another is happening in our world today, and I’ve stopped trying to keep up. Which one should I pray for? Which one is the most tragic? It’s all so numbing. And the news outlets jump around so much in their coverage. They’re easily distracted and so am I.
  • I don’t personally know any Syrians, so theirs is not a problem that I can relate to.
  • Since I’m not giving money or taking any other action, it would be hypocritical for me only to pray.

To me it’s about knowing, understanding, caring, and acting—and back in September, concerning the Syrian crisis, I was lacking in all these areas. But since I started writing this post, things have been changing. I now know more, I understand more, I care more . . . and I’ve started praying.

If the surveyors called me today, I’m still not sure I could say, “I pray for refugees and the conflict in Syria.” I have prayed. And I plan to pray. But I’ve got a ways to go before I can say with confidence I do pray.

How about you?

Know

Would you like to know more? Take a closer look at the statistics from the Pew Research Center and the UN Refugee Agency.

Understand

To better understand the situation, you can read “Syria: The Story of the Conflict,” from BBC News, or watch this video:

Care

If you need help caring, if you need faces and stories to go with the numbers . . .

Pray

If you don’t know how to pray, then you can go to World Vision’s prayer guide, and listen to this prayer from a Syrian Christian:

More

And if you’d like to help financially, here are two options for giving funds to help alleviate this great need:

World Vision

UNCHR: The UN Refugee Agency

I have started praying, and I hope that in the future, if I get a call for a survey, I’ll be able to say I’m praying still.

(Philip Connor and Jens Manuel Krogstad, “About Six-in-Ten Syrians Are Now Displaced,” Fact Tank, Pew Research Center, June 13, 2016; Connor and Krogstad, “Key Facts about the World’s Refugees,” Fact Tank, Pew Research Center, October 5, 2016; “Survey: While Aleppo and Mosul Burn, American Christians Less Likely to Pray for, Help Refugees than a Year Ago,” World Vision)

[photo: “IOM and Japan continue to help Syrian refugees,” by IOM | UN Migration Agency, used under a Creative Commons license]

what3words: Now Everyone Can Say, “I.Am.Here”

June 15, 2016 § 3 Comments

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Growing up on a farm, I didn’t have an address, just rural-route and post-office-box numbers. Our gravel roads weren’t named either, so to tell someone how to find us, we’d have to talk about driving a certain number of miles north, south, east, or west, crossing a bridge, or turning at a red barn.

Oh, how things have changed. Not only do my family members who live in the country now have house numbers and road names, we’ve also got that GPS thing. But there are still plenty of places in the world like the wild, wild midwest of my youth—places without registered addresses.

Take, for instance, Mongolia, a country more than twice the size of Texas, where many of its 3 million people live as nomads. What’s a post office to do? Well Mongol Post, the country’s postal service, recently turned to what3words for help. The London-based what3words has divided the globe into a grid of 57 trillion 3-meter by 3-meter squares, each with a unique 3-word label. So instead of needing a street address or directions or an unwieldy and hard-to-remember set of latitude/longitude coordinates, Mongol Post deliveries can go to places such as “cabdriver.salesclerk.scruff” or “graces.bigwig.pictures.”

According to what3words’ About page, 75% of the world’s population—4 billion people in 135 countries—don’t have adequate addressing systems. This causes difficulties not only in delivering mail but also in such things as reporting crimes, advertising a business, and delivering humanitarian aid.

what3words also solves problems in travel and tourism, and that holds true in even the most-developed countries. That’s because while a particular location may have a usable address, finding a place within that location can be difficult. For instance, you could use it to meet friends at a specific entrance at the airport. Or you could let someone know your place on a hiking trail. Or you could use it in a parking lot to find your car.

The system they developed by what3words currently has versions in 9 languages (English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Swahili, Russian, German, Turkish, and Swedish), and the organization guarantees that the word combinations pinned to a particular location will never change.

Oh, and there’s another use for what3words that I haven’t heard anyone else mention: naming your garage band. Sure you can use the Band Name Maker, but how much cooler would it be to use three random words that correspond with the garage where your band was born?

(Giles, “Partner: Mongolian Post Adopts what3words as National Addressing System,” what3words, May 24, 2016)

[photo: “In the middle of nowhere,” by Ernesto Graf, used under a Creative Commons license]

Telling Stories of Perseverance from Afghanistan and Kilimanjaro

September 25, 2015 § 1 Comment

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Mt. Kilimanjaro

My alma mater, the University of Missouri, is known for its School of Journalism. And the School of Journalism is known for the quality of work done by its graduates.

Two of those graduates have been featured this year in Mizzou Magazine for their international-themed documentaries, in which people courageously face the challenges before them.

Afghanistan: No One Should Be Forgotten

In the winter issue, Mo Scarpelli talks about her motivation for making documentaries. “The stories I’m interested in,” she says, “inform and provoke people to learn about something or start questioning things in their world.” It is this mindset that led her, and fellow director/producer Alexandria Bombach, to film Frame by Frame, which follows four photojournalists in post-Taliban Afghanistan.

One of those four is Massoud Hossaini, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 2012 for his photo showing the aftermath of a suicide bombing in Kabul.

When the Taliban were overthrown, taking photos became legal again. But with the withdrawal of US troops, Hossaini and others are concerned that their rights will once again be lost. “This is a big possibility that the world . . . I mean . . . forget us again,” Houssaini says in the documentary. He doesn’t believe that anyone should be forgotten:

The world now is like one body, so all the member of this body should know that one member has a pain. And they should feel this, and they should know, and they should find out.

Kilimanjaro: More than a Hike

Steve Remich, another MU alum, is the videographer and co-editor behind Life in Motion: Kilimanjaro 2014. The short documentary shows Alex D’Jamoos, a young man without legs, and others climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. Their trek was sponsored by the Happy Families International Center (HFIC), a non-profit that helps disabled children in orphanages get the medical care they need.

In Mizzou Magazine‘s fall issue, Remich says his hope in the documentary is to show something larger than just a climb up Kilimanjaro:

With the video, I really wanted to tell a short story that was about more than a hike. Sure it’s physically difficult and you wonder if you can make it to the top, but the entire point of hiking the highest mountain in Africa on prosthetic legs is about the symbolism of the act. Alex said something very powerful in one of our interviews, essentially that walking—for him—is not about mobility but about being normal. That really stuck with me, and I did my best to build a story around that idea.

D’Jamoos came to the US for surgery when he was 15 and was adopted by a family in Dallas soon after. He’s now a student at the University of Texas, planning to become an international lawyer.

“Even now, it’s surreal to me that I am a UT student,” D’Jamoos tells The Alcalde, the alumni magazine of The University of Texas. “It sounds a bit crazy. You know, ‘disabled Russian orphan comes to America, goes to college, climbs Kilimanjaro?’ Well, yeah.”

(Kelsey Allen, “Frame by Frame,” Mizzou Magazine, November 11, 2014; “Life in Motion,” Mizzou Magazine, August 19, 2015; Rose Cahalan, “The Climb,” The Alcalde, Jan/Feb 2015)

[photo: “Kili 56,” by Sam Haley, used under a Creative Commons license]

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