Journalism as a holy trade

September 15, 2011

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“I became a journalist to come as close as possible to the heart of the world.” -Henry R. Luce

SANTA FE, New Mexico — I’m skating in the desert, just me and Merissa, a little Spanish girl who’s all of 13, with a red sweater, braces on her teeth and a smile that goes for a mile.

For three bucks you can rent hockey skates here at the Chavez Centre, a rink at the edge of this historic capitol. It’s just the two of us going round and round, four feet churning, me wearing a Team Canada T-shirt, all of this unplanned.

We talk. Merissa is thrilled that I’m from Canada. She tells me that she wants to be a hockey player.

The unexpected summer skate is a highlight of my time in New Mexico. I’m here, in fact, for some studies.

But this bliss on ice leads me to something else: the recent implosion of the British tabloid News of the World, the criminality of all involved and the great need for believers to dive into the waters of journalism.

It’s unfortunate that, even in the media’s better times, people of faith have often eschewed the fourth estate. Some likely agree with Otto von Bismarck’s quip that “a journalist is someone who has missed his calling.”

But as someone who was baptized into the mainstream press long ago, I can say that you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more fulfilling vocation, and holy trade. Yes, holy.

Twenty-five years ago I fell into it with surprise. Later I discovered that no theological school could have better prepared me to do what we’ve been asked by our Lord, that is to strap in and get on with it: to bring truth into skepticism, healing into brokenness and community into fragmentation.

Reporting the news—both humanity’s bad news and God’s good news—after all, was the primary undertaking of the Bible’s writers. And who is Jesus, if not the God who told stories?

Of course, even without this summer’s tabloid treachery, some believers will always turn away from vocations that are immersed in the so-called “secular” world. In a sense, though, there is no such thing as secular. There is only the sacred and profane, which is the bastardization of the sacred.

Yes, it can be tricky for a Christian to navigate a mainstream newsroom. And it can be tricky for a serious journalist to always fit in with imperfect faith communities. Reporting for a dozen years at an Ontario daily showed me the perils of both.

There I gathered the wits to later write about life in other unexpected places, like Yemen, and now Uganda, where I’m about to return with my family for another eight-month stretch.

And so I leave Canada again, looking around, wondering.

“Who has set us here, in this vocation, at this late date, out of due time? We have not accidentally fallen, we have been placed. As, of course, we already know in our marrow.”

That’s a line from John Updike. Am I the only one stirred by it? I can’t be. Then why are so many missions filled with health workers and educators? They’re fine people. I’m married to one. But where are the journalists?

How often is journalism suggested to young people from Christ-confessing homes as a legitimate vocation, a tremendous mission in Canada, let alone a fertile field abroad? Surely some youth have the spiritual gifts and wiring just waiting to be uncovered and turned on.

This little Spanish girl from Santa Fe wants to be a hockey player because someone had the crazy idea of building an arena in the desert. Now 400 pairs of skates hang in its rental shop. Maybe Wayne Gretzky, who left his Canadian hockey home—in tears if you recall—is to thank.

The girl now needs attention and hope and many things. Anyone with a caring bone will let her work and play her heart out with it all, wherever she may go. Hers is a sanctified joy.

So is lacing up these other skates, of journalism. Just look at all that open ice.

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September 15, 2011 • Posted in ,
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