Blessington and Kineke from CBS

Jack Blessington, exec producer of Religion and Culture, CBS, talks to the NYC Religion Communicators Council, on winning the Wilbur award.

Jack Blessington and Liz Kineke of CBS News Religion and Culture spoke to 25 religion writers and communicators on Tuesday, May 28, 2013 in a conference room at the Latter Day Saints’ office near Lincoln Center in Manhattan.

Blessington said he was dumbstruck when his name was called after winning a special Wilbur award in Indianapolis on April 6, 2013. Blessington had been moved to tears by the Wilbur awards winners who preceded him to the podium. In particular, Blessington recalled Richards Paul Evans’s story of jealousy and forgiveness between Evans and his brother and the Michael Martin’s book on the inspiring life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. “I was lost,” Blessington explained.

But Blessington did not lose his gift for gab this week. He chatted about his early days as a headmaster at Whitby Montessori School in Conn. and his upcoming commencement address. He talked about covering religion for more than 30 years at CBS News.

He called the work of religion writers and communicators vital, especially in covering protests. “The fight is on again, led by the women, the women on the bus,” he said referring to the Roman Catholic nuns who took to the road in 2012 to dispute vice presidential candidate Ryan’s conservative compassion for the poor.

On receiving the special Wilbur award, which honors stories of faith in mainstream media, Blessington said, “Getting the award was lovely, but I have loved the work.”

James (Jay) Rollins of UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) and national president of the Religion Communicators Council with Liz Kineke, CBS producer and Wilbur award winner.
Liz Kineke spoke to the Religion Communicators Council New York chapter on why people are losing their religion.

Liz Kineke spoke about her latest project for CBS on why people are leaving organized religion. The reasons, Kineke reported, are connected to what Christian historian Diana Butler Bass has called the lost decade. After 9/11, attendance dropped, as people perceived religion as too political, too exclusive, and too embroiled in society’s fights, like the struggle for gay marriage.

Upcoming CBS Religion and Culture shows in production, Kineke reported, are on the topics of: religion and humor featuring Lewis Black, Father Jim Martin, and Rev. Susan Sparks; human trafficking; and an “explainer show” on Jainism, Christian Science, and Tibetan Buddhism.

The topics are chosen by an Interfaith Broadcast Committee with input from viewers.

While religion may be losing its hold in society, the subject remains important to CBS News. “Scott Pelley (evening anchor) wants religion to be covered in the evening news,” Kineke said.

The two kept the crowd laughing as they took questions.

Kineke reported that Butler Bass had answered church people who ask, “When are all the young people coming back? There’s no evidence they are.”

In answer to questions on religion’s demise, Blessington described TV’s ubiquity as a resource for educating on values as well as a vehicle for ruining faith and values.

Blessington said he saw society returning to the hedonism of the roaring 1920s.

Neither Blessington nor Kineke, the CBS producers, pushed for one faith above another in their reporting. They both emphasized the value in all faiths, although Blessington frequently joked about his Catholicism as the “one, true religion.”

He also joked that there were too many Methodists in this week’s RCC gathering as there were last month at the RCC awards in Indianapolis. He chided Kineke for sitting at the Methodist’s “naughty table” at the awards ceremony.


At the end of the luncheon, Blessington became serious. “I’m not pushing for religion. I am pushing for a sense of humility in God’s creation.”

Blessington, 80, said his work has been to look for goodness. “If you love this life like I do, you want it to go on.”

Is the Pope Better Than You and Me?

At a disco party in the early ’80s, I snorted something and my heart raced, pounding like it was going to beat right out of my chest. I prayed to God, “Please God, let me live. I will never do that again! Let me get beyond this moment and if I do, I will be good. For the rest of my life, I will be good, God.”

I don’t know if it was at that exact moment but at some point in my life, I decided to be good. I prayed to God to be good. It was my trajectory. After all, as a girl growing up in a big Catholic family, I put stock in goodness.

Yesterday, I saw the movie, Oz the Great and Powerful. There is a theme in that movie about being good and doing good. About how pursuing the good is better than being a great man. And, of course, there is the theme that people need a leader to whom they can project their hopes onto.

And I think about these things as the world wonders about the next pope. Does he pursue good? Or simply greatness?

Is he better than average? Is he holier than you and me?

I wonder why good people don’t get ahead or to the top of institutions. Having worked for a church bureaucracy for years, I’ve noticed that church leadership values intelligence. Perhaps only colleges or universities value intelligence more than religious organizations. But just because you’re smart, does that mean you are holy? Or kind? Or Christ-like? Or have an attitude of servant leadership towards the world?

I bet the new pope is smart, probably smarter than me, and probably more diplomatic too. But does that make him good? He probably knows the bible better than me. But has he held hands with the sick or dying? Has he helped people who feel alone to become a part of a community? Has he loved the poor? I am good, but I am not always that good.

This I know: the greatest saints were the worst sinners. I hope this pope smoked or snorted something he shouldn’t have. I hope he had a revelation when he thought he was dying, like I did; and I hope he then dedicated his life to being and doing good. And I hope he is like Oz, not all that great and powerful after all, but simply a good man. He is, like me and like you, someone who is human, has made mistakes and now has stories to tell.

I want to be inspired by someone who is more than an intellectual, a bible expert, a magician or a diplomat. I want to be inspired by someone who is and who values the good in all of us.

a window at Duke University Divinity School
a stained glass window at Duke University seminary.

My 3 Words


On my walk to the subway this morning, I received this message. It was being thrown out with the Christmas trees on Amsterdam Ave.

I had been wondering What are my 3 inspiring words for 2011? Here they were: Become. Your. Dream.

Social media guru Chris Brogan suggests giving yourself 3 guiding words for the New Year.  (I love this guy’s blog. My Connected Life blog is my homage to Brogan.)


I decided to visit a church. The image on the sign seemed to be a helicopter. Move. Go. Do the thing you say you will do. For me that means Visit a church a day. I tried to go to St. Paul’s Chapel at Columbia University, but it was locked. Columbia U. must still be off for the New Year’s  holiday.

I wish church doors were never locked. The gates nearby were locked too.

So  I  wandered out of Columbia towards Morningside Drive. Morningside is such a great name for a street. Here it was morning and I was on Morningside. I remembered the ephiphany I had on Morningside last time I walked there — gratitude. My heart was full of gratitude for every single person I knew.

Yesterday was Epiphany Sunday. I thought of James Joyce’s epiphany in The Artist as a Young Man. I think it happened as Stephen Dedalus watched a flock of birds in the sky. I thought James Joyce is gone, but I am alive. Yes, that was my epiphany. I am alive. I looked up at the sky in honor of James Joyce. Because he could no longer look up. And I saw a hawk or eagle circling. It was my ephiphany. I took it in, the literalness and then the symbolism of it – to dream, to helicopter, to fly. I am alive.

I remembered another message from yesterday’s Epiphany Sunday at Rutgers Church —  love is hard.


I decided to go back to the Mary in a grotto church again.

Although I’ve said I will try to visit a new church everyday, maybe any old church is just as good. I had to get to work.

Since the Montreal Notre Dame Church, I’ve started to feel an affinity for any Mary or Notre Dame church. I love Mary. Maybe because my name is Mary or the idea of Mary reveals a softer side of God or religion.


The church doors facing Morningside were wide open. Two priests and a woman in a coat were saying prayers towards the altar. I marveled at how bright the church was. I love bright. But who pays the electric bill? (My mind leaps from epiphanal to logistical in a moment!) I sat in the last row. I remembered a dream I had last night about a woman holding a bird and a snake, laughing while her picture was being taken.

I could not understand a word the three at the front said. It was all a mumble until after about five minutes when they concluded, audibly saying, “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Those were their three words.

I remembered to cross myself as I left. The holy water at the Church of Notre Dame is flown in from France.

The Church Was Locked

I decided to visit St. Philip Neri Church here in Westport, New York. It was Friday, almost 6 pm; the front door was locked. I tried the back door. Also locked.

Charlotte was with me. We were on our way to pick up Chris from rehearsal at the Father Mac Hall across the street from the church.

“Let’s just sit and pray quietly in the graveyard,” I suggested.

“No way!” She said. “You’re crazy.”

But she walked with me towards the large crucifix, way over to the side, through the rows of headstones.

There was nowhere to sit.

Charlotte felt brave and silly and, for some reason, danced around.

“Please rest your body and your song. Sit beside me quietly.” I perched on a little hill at the foot of the Cross. She stood beside me quietly for about a minute.

I think Char felt the whole outing was creepy. Even though every night, we are reading Neil Gaiman’s “The Graveyard Book,” which kind of makes you think graveyards are actually nurturing, though, yes, creepy places.

I had taken the girls six months, maybe a year ago, to Columbia University to hear Gaiman read that story. We were in the balcony. The girls were very restless. Listening to an author read, even the author of “Coraline,” was not their cup of tea. I am digressing.

Another digression. After dinner, two young missionaries from The Church of Latter Day Saints visited our house. The kids were quite curious to hear the front doorbell ring and to see anyone appear at the front door. It’s a very long driveway and they must’ve walked to the house because there was no car nearby. We were cordial to the two young, beautiful, friendly women; I told them that we were also Christian and we were very happy with our current church. That I felt all religions had beauty and meaning.

“It’s nice to meet fellow Christians,” the dark-haired girl said.

So although I did not go to church today, church tried to come to me.

Earlier, when Charlotte and I walked out of the graveyard behind the St. Philip Church, the bells tolled. They rang six times.

I learned a few things:

1. Churches may be locked

2. Maybe it’s best not to take my kids with me on my Church-A-Day outings.

3. Expect church in unlikely places.

Googling St. Philip Neri, I read he was a “humorous saint.”

Many people wrongly feel that such an attractive and jocular personality as Philip’s cannot be combined with an intense spirituality. Philip’s life melts our rigid, narrow views of piety. His approach to sanctity was truly catholic, all-embracing and accompanied by a good laugh. Philip always wanted his followers to become not less but more human through their striving for holiness. –

I like that. I also like his quote, “Let me get through today, and I shall not fear tomorrow.”