Faith and those in the media

At Hot Air, Michelle Malkin writes approvingly about a series of stories that’s been running in the Seattle Times about a little girl’s fight against neuroblastoma. Her family is a religious one, and the story tracks how their deep faith helps them cope. It turns out that the Seattle Times has been taking some heat from readers uncomfortable about the religious aspects of the story. In light of this focus, the paper’s editor interviewed the story’s writers to find out if the story was affecting their beliefs:

Given how personal this assignment has become, I felt I should ask Brewer and Ringman whether their own faith has affected or been affected by the story.

Brewer said his grandfather is a Baptist preacher and he grew up in a very spiritual family. “It’s still a factor in my life. It helps me feel the story. You’ve got to feel it.”

Brewer said that when the Strauss family prays, “I know the Bible passage they recite and what they mean.” But the Strauss family is Catholic. “We’re both Christians, but it’s a lot different,” he said.

Ringman said that he has not been a very spiritual person, but the story “opens an opportunity to feel God. It’s very moving and I’m surprised by that.”

A few readers have objected to the centrality of faith in the story. Brewer responds that many families use faith to help them through illness, but “very few newspapers have documented this feeling — religion, if you will — that is very strong and moving within lots of suffering families. By presenting what this family believes and focusing on it, I’m simply putting a mirror on them.”

Coincidentally, I just read a story in my local paper that had the same tone of surprise that comes when a non-religious person comes face to face with faith. This time, the reporter’s contact with deep faith came about because of a personal tragedy: her nephew in law died in a car accident. She knew him and loved him, but this knowledge came about only in the context of her family, not in the context of his life. It therefore came as a tremendous surprise to her, at the funeral, to know that he was a religious man, and deeply involved in his faith. With her liberal background, one that encourages a fear of the Christian faith, she was surprised by the strong sense of community and the hope that came with belief. Interestingly, her column, the first part of which I’ve posted below struck me as being about faith and community, while the editors (or the author) titled it to focus on family:

WHEN my niece’s husband died in a car accident two weeks ago, we were stunned.

We had no idea what to do.

Our best answer was to pile in our cars and drive to Roseville, where services were held last Sunday.

We had all known Frank James as the good-humored father of five children and husband of my precious niece Charlotte. He was also a painter and actor.

We had only a vague idea who he actually was.

We were amazed to arrive at the Roseville church to find 1,000 people already there.

Frank James, it turns out, was a pillar of the Valley Springs Presbyterian community, ministering to hundreds of parishioners though he wasn’t their minister.

He put on church pageants, counseled seniors, led weekly Bible study, visited the sick in hospitals and trained lay counselors. He also ran the church’s art gallery and helped out at Sunday services.

He had been a Christian believer all his life.

My family tends to be agnostic, wary of the destructive acts performed throughout history in the name of Christianity.

The service was laced with “hallelujahs” and references to Jesus, the gospel and salvation.

There was lots of singing, a half hour of biblical readings. All touched on areas of faith that most of my family had left behind, but inside the church, the spirit was powerful indeed. Charlotte’s children – I remember some of them as toddlers wearing “Jesus Saves” T-shirts – seemed sad, yet deeply comforted.

The sadness was relieved by a string of humorous testimonials from his children and friends.

I think both these stories remind us that many in the media, while they may have been raised in religious homes, have lived their adult lives entirely separate from religion.  And when you move really far away from something, it begins to mutate in your mind, with certain aspects of it taking on magical or frightening qualities, and everything else receding into a faded distance.  That may explain why these same journalists are so surprised and almost relieved to see ordinary faith, practiced by ordinary people:  it’s not the scary boogey man that it’s grown to be in the isolation of their newsrooms and secular communities.

4 Responses

  1. Do you have any idea what you’re talking about?

  2. This was a wonderful tribute to Valley Springs, where there are some very fine people. (I live in Sacramento, know the couple who started the congregation, and their family.)

    Bookworm, I’ve been reading your blog for several months now, and look in several times a day. I really enjoy it. Thanks.

  3. That you, elc!

    Greg, I assume that question was rhetorical, since it really didn’t seem to seek an answer.

  4. I used to work as a compositor, a proof reader, a librarian and researcher at our newspaper. Our community is probably best known to outsiders as a conservative, deeply Christian, Amish, Mennonite, missionary-minded plot of Bible Belt. But you would never have known that from listening to the ignorance on display at the paper. The editors were timorous, quaking fearful little trogs who believed that “hate” speech should be outlawed; they were blatant self-sensoring types whose opinions were so even handed and dully written, that you could neither agree nor disagree with them. Religion, or I should say, Christianity, made them completely unhinged. I am glad to see the press become more and more irrelevent. Having said that, I am also glad to see some soul-searching on the part of those writers and editors in a godless place like Seattle.

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