Agony and ecstasy—12 months of turmoil, disaster, death, rescue, victory, and celebration
With the first day of Advent arriving on Sunday, it’s a worthy moment to think about the journalism of Advent. Not the advent of journalism—but the kind of journalism that Advent encourages.
The book of Luke opens with the most oft-cited account of Jesus’ birth, but it also begins with a note from the author. We know that Luke was a physician and a companion of the Apostle Paul, but in the first four verses of his gospel account, Luke also sounds like a journalist.
He addresses his account to a man named Theophilus, and he highlights several realities that hold gifts as valuable as gold, frankincense, and myrrh for Christian writers willing to learn from Luke’s excellence:
• Luke tells his reader that “many have undertaken to compile a narrative” of Christ’s life. Luke wasn’t doing something no one else had done, but he clearly saw room to add to what already existed. It seems quite likely that among the “many” attempts, some were probably better than others, and Luke believed he had something to contribute.
• Luke’s sources were “eyewitnesses” to Christ’s life. He was plugged in to the community he was writing about, and he based his account on the testimony of people who saw events unfold firsthand.
• He had “followed all things closely for some time past.” Luke wasn’t a fly-by-night tweeter jumping into the fray with limited knowledge and quick conclusions. He valued the time he had spent learning and listening and investigating before writing.
• He aspired to write “an orderly account.” This took serious work. We know the Scriptures are inspired, but the Holy Spirit didn’t use stenographers. He used the hard work of holy men to write divine words. One can even imagine Luke making an outline, interviewing sources, fact-checking, spreading his notes on the floor.
• It “seemed good” to Luke to write an account. Not only did Luke think it was important to write a narrative, he thought it was good. Why? Because he had an audience in mind. He wasn’t writing to showcase his access to prominent New Testament leaders, but because he wanted his reader to “have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”
So Luke undertook hard work, orderly work, and good work with a specific goal in mind: the good of others pursuing the glory of God.
Surely this serves as a template for a Christian journalist. When I’m tempted to think there’s nothing to add to a subject, it might be because that’s true. But if I’m aiming for the good of others and the glory of God, it’s possible there may be a way to tell a story many others aren’t telling that might accomplish those ends.
And I do think about you, most excellent reader, when I write. I do want your good. I don’t always succeed as I hope, but I do want to produce reporting that is orderly, reliable, and even inspiring.
I do think about you, most excellent reader, when I write. … I do want to produce reporting that is orderly, reliable, and even inspiring.
Let me be clear: What I write is not inspired. It’s certainly fallible, and on some issues it’s perplexing to find the proper path through. Sometimes I fail. But I still think Luke’s method offers something important to imitate.
I think that’s probably true in other work as well. You’re probably doing work that many other people are doing. You’re mothering or teaching or banking or fixing cars or building houses or doing many other ordinary things each day.
Like the reporter Luke, let this all “seem good” to you if you’re working with excellence and aiming for the good of others and the glory of God—whatever the context you’re working in.
I’m excited to think about how many stories are still left to tell both now and in the future. The Gospel of John ends by saying that Jesus did so many things during His lifetime that if all of them were recorded, “I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”
I hope the new earth will.
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Another outbreak of mass shootings in recent days, including an attack on a bar in Southern California that ended with 13 dead last week, leaves communities across the country lamenting life in a broken and sinful world.
How do we navigate it?
For the Christian believer, an Old Testament book offers a needed liturgy for suffering: The Psalms give fertile ground for deep sighs and groans before the Maker of heaven and earth.
Whether suffering is public, like the attack on a Pittsburgh synagogue that left 11 dead, or private, like the tragedies that unfold in homes across the country every day, the book of Psalms gives the Christian believer the room to grieve and the ground for hope.
Eleven years ago, I spent a searing evening in a chapel at Virginia Tech University, where a gunman had cut down 32 people the morning before. A campus pastor faced a room of college students who were largely unaccustomed with death and wholly unacquainted with mass shootings.
What does one say? He read Psalm 88:
“My soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol. I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am a man who has no strength, like one set loose among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave. … You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep.”
No trite explanation of evil.
Even as an outsider, I found it a relief. Here, the psalmist acknowledges the depths of sin and sorrow, and doesn’t come to a neat conclusion. In other Psalms, the writer soars to heights of love and depths of peace—a hopeful part of life in a broken world. But the Psalms always give room to grieve and to groan.
For that reason, theologian John Calvin called the Psalms an “anatomy of all parts of the soul.”
He continued: “There is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror. Or rather, the Holy Spirit has here drawn … all the griefs, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, perplexities, in short, all the distracting emotions with which the minds of men are wont to be agitated.”
The rest of the Bible fleshes out grief, and shows Jesus come in the flesh as a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Jesus groaned and sighed over sin and brokenness before taking both on Himself to save others.
Later, the Apostle Paul wrote that the creation itself groans under brokenness, and that believers “grown inwardly” as they wait for the resurrection to come. In the same chapter, Paul also says the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with “groanings too deep for words,” helping us and upholding us in our weakness.
What a comfort: Whatever the grief, we do not groan alone. And we do not groan as those who have no hope.
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With all eyes on a caravan of several thousand Central American migrants trekking through Mexico toward the U.S. border this week, it was perhaps easy to miss another massive march that unfolded in Mexico just a few days ago.
An estimated hundreds of thousands of Mexicans marched in cities across the country on Oct. 20 for an annual March for Life organized by the National Front for the Family. Abortion is illegal in most cases in most Mexican states, though it’s legal in Mexico City up to 12 weeks of pregnancy.
But the pro-life march last Saturday wasn’t an echo chamber to confirm the beliefs of a pro-life country: It was also at least partly a concern over Mexico’s new president, slated to take office on Dec. 1.
In July, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (often known by the acronym AMLO) won the Mexican presidency a landslide, touting an unabashedly leftist platform.
But when it comes to social issues, AMLO’s beliefs are less clear. He barely mentioned the subject during his candidacy, and he demurred at one point by saying both gay marriage and abortion should be put to a national vote.
In the meantime, his own political party made alliances with several smaller parties, including a group known for its socialist goals and a separate party known for its socially conservative ideals. When it comes to the new president, many supporters and activists wondered: Which is it?
The answer may be a little bit of both: It seems unlikely the new president would quickly press for expanding abortion in a nation where the practice is illegal in so many states. But he’s likely to face pressure in the progressive capital city to liberalize abortion and support gay marriage.
Either way, the caravan of pro-life marchers made clear last weekend they remain committed to defending the unborn, even as a new political era in Mexico is about to give birth.
Farther south, Brazilians are expected to turn out by the millions for their own presidential election on Oct. 28. In this case, pundits predict voters will choose a conservative candidate who is running under the slogan, “Brazil Above Everything, God Above Everyone.”
The Economist calls Jair Bolsonaro “a populist with authoritarian instincts.” But that may be part of his strong appeal for many Brazilians: In 2016, the Brazilian government impeached President Dilma Rousseff on corruption charges, and many understandably angry voters seem desperate to stem the tide of corruption afflicting their country’s government.
Bolsonaro has appealed to Christian voters in the predominantly Catholic country, which hosts a burgeoning population of Protestant believers.
Brazilians are scheduled to vote on a day Protestant Christians recognize as Reformation Sunday. It’s a good reminder that what Brazil—and every nation—needs most won’t come from political powers but from true spiritual reform.