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.”

Happiness on Social Media

Life has been a bit of whirlwind. Only today does it feel like the the dust has settled. And it’s a rainy, dreary, depressing day.

After the kids’ and my spring break trip to Chris’s cousins in Boston and Nantucket, I led a blogging workshop at the Indiana Writers Center and a social media workshop at Religion Communicators Council, both in Indianapolis. Then I visited family in Chicago. It was all great.

I went solo on this recent trip to Indy and Chi-town. And the adage is true: you travel faster when you travel alone. But maybe fast is not always best.

Since taking this MOOC with MIT and last week’s keynote from Daniel Sieberg (I dig Bill Aiken’s summary of Sieberg’s Keynote), I’m asking myself these questions about my social media habit:

Is social media really making me more creative and connected?

Am I using social media only to market my stuff? Or do I really want to get to know you and your stuff too?

Am I oversharing with all my blogging, tweeting, Facebragging, instagramming?

See, I bumped into a friend on the street yesterday and she asked me how my spring cleaning was going. My first response was embarrassment. How did she know I was spring cleaning? But then I remembered my joke on my FB status. I’d updated, “While spring cleaning this morning, I found $3 – who says housework doesn’t pay?”

I felt a little flattered and a little naked. Truly, I write so people will read me.

So, on one hand, I worry if no one will read me, and then, on the other, I worry if people will read my stuff and react. (I write like I dance, like no one is watching me.)

In our last MOOC session on motivation and learning, Natalie Rusk mentioned that the keys to happiness are purpose and belonging. That these lead to personal growth. Maybe social media is for the social good when it encourages all of us to belong, to be purposeful, and to grow together.

Maybe when the rain stops and the dust settles some more, I’ll figure it all out.

Until then, here’s where I market my stuff on my social media — I’ve still got room in my Writing Retreat 4/25-4/28. And I need a few more good writers to make the weekend happen. We can discuss our digital diets over a nice long, leisurely dinner together.

One hour off technology

Writing and Mothering and Listen To Your Mother

pink buds blooming
Across from my apartment, things are starting to bloom.

A Long Winter’s Nap

Tabata, my sister's cat. She doesn't care much...
I get sick of cat photos but this one’s cute. (Photo credit: creative commons, Wikipedia)

Yesterday the weirdest thing happened. I had a lot to do, so I napped. I never nap. I only napped when I was pregnant.

I felt guilty for napping. Guilt is my fall-back feeling for doing anything that does not improve the house, help my husband or my kids, earn money.

After all, I had to:

  • Clean the house. (The cleaning lady couldn’t come due to the impending storm.)
  • Write a proposal for the Players Club about a January blogging event.
  • Say yes! to a request to lead a social media workshop in April 2013 at Religion Communicators Council gathering in Indianapolis.
  • Begin a magazine writing assignment.
  • Watch the president’s acceptance speech. (Couldn’t stay up on election night to wait for Romney’s concession!)
  • Help my husband with bill-paying.

So I napped. I slept for two and a half hours. I woke up groggy, confused. I had dreamt I was at a racetrack with my son and I was drinking champagne. It was a warm afternoon and I was enjoying our shady spot. I wanted to stay asleep.

My kids chased each other with snowballs into the apartment building.

The kids come home from school, dropping their backpacks by the front door, noisy and hungry for a snack or attention.

But I couldn’t help them. I couldn’t remember who they were, who I was, or where I was. It took me half an hour to feel right. That’s why I never nap. It’s discombobulating.

I know I’m tired because I’ve been waking early to get the kids up to their bus and get to my 7:30 am guided meditation class.

In meditation yesterday morning, a long-haired dude sitting next to me was falling on my shoulder, snoring away. It threw me off my meditation game.

My nap threw me off too. Since it snowed last night, I’m wondering if maybe I was just getting ready for a long winter’s nap.

Where is utopia?

At the Arch Street Friends Meeting House, Dr. Emma Jones Lapsansky-Werner told us how William Penn’s vision of utopia led to the urban design of Philadelphia, city of brotherly, sisterly love. 

When asked where utopia can be found today, Dr. Lapsansky-Werner, a Quaker historian at Haverford College, said, God lives in:

  • public transportation
  • community parks
  • markets where people sell their own stuff
  • schools where parents participate in teaching

I would add:

  • grand old train stations

Unlike airports, which are made of glass, steel, sterility, full of uniformed personnel intent on efficiency and safety, train stations are grand dames, made of marble, wood, vast ceilings, wasted space, meandering Art Deco design, and welcome to all kinds of wandering characters.

My Amtrak train just pulled out of the 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, passing Newark Station. We are on route to New York City.

I like that Amtrak conductors are characters. (I’ve written about this on another blog and on seeing nature from the windows, on Looking for Eagles on Amtrak).

In fact, train conductors have shared their cookies and fellow passengers have shared their chocolate cake with me on Amtrak excursions. Nobody really shares at airports or on airplanes.

I find utopia in places where people share. Where do you find utopia?

Dr. Lapsansky-Werner was a featured speaker at the Religion Communicators Council annual meeting.



CBS Producers

Producers John P. Blessington and Liz Kineke from CBS Religion and Culture Series spoke to New York’s Religion Communicators Council at lunch today in a conference room in the Mormon temple near Lincoln Center.

The two talked about their love for producing television documentaries on topic’s like this year’s line up — unemployment, the environment, immigration, and pluralism — all from a faith perspective.

Melissa Crutchfield's hands at a memorial for Sam Dixon in Haiti. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.

The two won a 2011 Wilbur award from the RCC for their documentary, “Haiti: Religion’s Response to Disaster,” which featured my colleague, Melissa Crutchfield, disaster relief exec at UMCOR, (you can hear her on Youtube at: I didn’t see the Haiti documentary but I think it included the story of our beloved UMCOR colleague Sam Dixon who died after being trapped in the collapsed Hotel Montana in Port-Au-Prince.

Blessington spoke about making the decision to focus on Haiti, even though, “We knew there would be fatigue on the issue of Haiti.” The producers didn’t shoot new footage in Haiti, but relied on B-roll from Church World Service and other faith-based relief agencies.

The discussion was mostly in the form of a Q and A. I asked if the producers would consider another topic that is often seen as heated and confrontational in culture and religion — sexuality as a gift from God. I mentioned the cover story in today’s New York Times about the struggle of evangelical college students to affirm their sexuality identity.

But Blessington said they couldn’t cover that. Any television show on sexuality and religion would irritate too many viewers he said. Hmmmmm..

That’s too bad since their documentaries seems in-depth and compassionate. And on compassion, Blessington mentioned that he loves the Charter for Compassion. And who doesn’t? How can you not love a charter that overleaps religious differences to unite the world through the golden rule?

The CBS Religion and Culture series website is pretty lame, but they’re working on it. You can check out when their documentaries will be released and in which local markets at:

As always, the couple of dozen religious communicators in attendance were pretty interesting people — Christian Scientist, Mormon, Jewish, Catholic. I chatted with a guy who is producing events called Laugh Out Loud to end bullying through laughter.

So the luncheon started with a discussion on Haiti and religion, and ended with laughter and bullying. And that’s my report from this month’s RCC luncheon.

Huff Po Editor Talks About AOL Merger

Alana B. Elias Kornfeld, the Living section editor at Huffington Post, told the Religion Communicators Council yesterday she is not sure how the AOL-Huff Po merger will play out.

But she does know that some trends will definitely remain worthy of reportage — like the green movement and our need to unplug.

I find it ironic — and cool — that a plugged-in website advocates unplugging from the web. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a fan of living off the grid. I renamed this blog The Connected Life because I’m trying to connect more to family and friends through face time rather than Facebook time.

On religion, Kornfeld said Huffington Post is not interested in religion — as in the politics of religion — but in religion — as in providing a “Space that gives rise to an inspired experience.”

I’m a fan of share and inspired experiences. And a lot of people are fans of Huffington Post — 56 million unique visitors per month and they’re expecting at least 200 mill more with the AOL merger. Kornfeld said that AOL has a loyal brand following, while Huff Po has substantive content. Nice when big brand marries big content!

I am a fan of Alana’s. And of Arianna’s. I met Arianna a long time ago and kinda knew she was going places.

I love what Arianna’s been saying lately about our need to get more sleep! (my post from last month, inspired by Huffington’s Ted Talk: ) I’d like to say more about yesterday’s luncheon, but you guessed it, I’ve got to go to bed!)

Incidentally, yesterday’s RCC was held at the Opus Dei headquarters on 34th and Lexington. Really nice and clubby, reminded me of the Yale Club. Nicer than the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints near Lincoln Center where the RCC met last month.

The RCC is a great group. At the annual gathering this year in Little Rock, Arkansas, Abderrahim Foukara, Head of Al-Jazerra in the US will deliver the keynote address. Should be interesting.

ABC Producer

At any given luncheon, there are three factors I consider:

1. What’s to eat?

2. Who do you sit with?

3. Is the speaker interesting?

The answer to these questions are:

1. Wraps, chips, cookies.

2. Pat Pattillo from National Council of Churches. Good conversationalist.

3. Yes, substantive. Jeanmarie Condon, senior producer for ABC News Nightline.

Before I head to another luncheon, let me post a few takeaways from last week’s RCC* luncheon.

1. Take Religion Seriously

When making a documentary about Waco TX, Condon learned the big mistake in law enforcement was that they didn’t take the religious beliefs of the Branch Davidians seriously. This ignorance is lethal. “Mainstream media ignored the religious content.”

“When Chilean miners got down on their knees to thank God for their rescue, did the media tell this story?” Condon asked.

Yet the tides are turning. At this moment, people are paying attention to religion. Religion is relevant. After all, “God and money motivate people,” Condon said.

Condon produced a documentary, Jerusalem Stories, with Peter Jennings. It was unpopular with conservative Christians. Condon also made a documentary about St. Paul. (Presumably that one was more popular.)

She was asked for The Century Project, What was the most meaningful event of the 20th century? “The Iran Hostage Crisis,” Condon concluded. That event ushered in the Islamic Revolution but started as a secular movement. Due to a vacuum of power, Khomeni moved in. And so, too, the West Bank and free media for Palestinians. “What started as a conflict over land was taken over by religious leaders.”

2.  Cover Religious Content with Respect

The wrong way to approach religion in the media is “from a quaint anthropolgical perspective. ‘Look what they believe and what they do,'” Condon said. Rather, “Have respect for all perspectives. Do not look at religion from the outside in. Look at it from the inside out.” Peter Jennings established the religion beat (Terry Moran, educated at Notre Dame, among others at ABC News, like Condon, are continuing to cover religion.)

When Condon traveled with Peter Jennings to the Church of Holy Sepluchre. “We were watching religious pilgrims touching the stone (where people claim Jesus’s body was anointed before his burial). He (Jennings) was crying.”

3. Make A Good Story

Condon said three things are essential:

1. Character
2. Narrative
3. Access

A character is a person or group of people interesting enough to write a short story about.”

The narrative is the story — with a beginning, middle and end — wherein the characters are compelled to take a journey.

By access, Condon means Nightline has to have uncensored time with the character, even if the subject of the profile is Hilary Clinton.

Condon produced a documentary on the search for the Real Jesus (using chants and Bob Dylan music). She also created a special setting out to uncover any facts upon which the novel, The DaVinci Code, was based.

“No truth to it…Mary Magdalene was probably a wealthy businesswomen,” Condon said.

A recent example of a good story? Nightline learned that Christian pastors from the Congo were performing excorisms. “We went and investigated.” The story uncovered abuses by the parents, the pastors, and the overarching need for medical care for kids there. It’s this kind of investigative story Nightline does so well. And perhaps the reason Nightline is the Number One late night show with four and a half million viewers.

Another recent religion story from ABC was their town hall meeting about Islam where the variety of Islamic pundits and practioners showed that Islam is as diverse as Christianity.

Good luncheon = Good food. Good table. Good speaker.


*RCC = Religion Communicators Council.

The locations of the monthly meetings of the New York Chapter of the RCC rotate. The October meeting was held in a windowless meeting room of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints.