What Newspapers Do Best

In a sentence, they tell you things you could find nowhere else.

Case in point, the Times-Picayune for Sunday, June 22, 2008. The best story is a front-page feature, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

When I have chided my young pastor buddies for not subscribing to the daily paper, they have come back with, “I read it on the internet,” and I have been silent. But having been to nola.com and read the portion of the paper which is on-line, I tell you it’s not the same. They’re missing a lot of fascinating material.

They’re missing the comics and the puzzles, of course, both staples in my morning routine. And they’re missing the kind of fascinating tidbits that pop up in other places throughout the newspaper, and which never get posted on the ‘net.

Take the wedding announcements. Being a longtime pastor, occasionally I’ll see people I know there. And then, once in a while, I’ll scan the articles themselves, don’t ask me why. Today, I found this….

Michelle Lynn Autin was married on May 17th to Brent Bernard Branigan. The third paragraph was made up of one fascinating sentence: “The bride carried creamy white hydrangea, stock and roses, wrapped with her great grandmother’s linen handkerchief a gift from her grandmother, Theresa M. Hindermann, that included her grandfather’s onyx rosary, antique doubled side charms, that pictured her grandfather, George J. Hindermann, Jr., great grandfather, Joseph T. Mangerchine, Sr., great grandmother, Thelma M. Mangerchine and her beloved pet Tigger, bound together by strands of crystal.”

Whew. The bride was carrying all that. Wonder if she was using a wheelbarrow.

Underneath that article was one announcing the wedding of Mr. Courtney Baine Robinson of New Orleans to Miss Kristen Michelle McKeever of Fort Worth. Her parents are Mr. and Mrs. Urbin C. McKeever, and no, I do not know them. Just found it interesting. We see others by our name so seldom.

No doubt they’re wonderful people.

Four of the six couples featured on the wedding page are honeymooning in Italy, Hawaii, Cozumel, and the Bahamas. The other two are spending three days/two nights at the Holiday Inn Express in Jasper, Alabama. (I just made that last line up, but otherwise it’s all true.)

One day recently, I was scanning the paper–you have to do a lot of scanning if you take a big-city daily, otherwise reading it will consume an hour a day–and in the neighborhood section, ran across a photo of Hugh O’Brien, the Hollywood actor who will forever be remembered as TV’s Wyatt Earp from the 1950’s. Here he is in his 80’s now, still handsome, and assisting locals through his charitable foundation. I decided some editor was too young to know a real Hollywood icon when he/she saw one and buried that item in lesser portion of our paper, and what a shame that was.

My grandmother, Sarah Noles Kilgore, would watch “Wyatt Earp” with us–she had the only TV in the family for a while, and thus “enjoyed” lots of visits from her grandchildren–and would comment that “Virge looked just like that in his younger days.” Virge was Grandpa, who had died a couple of years before.

Sunday’s Times-Picayune says New Orleans’ hospitality industry (that means “tourism”) has returned to 75 percent of its pre-Katrina levels.

A huge section in the Sunday paper promotes taking the train to Chicago. You can rent a roomette both ways for a price comparable to plane fare, and the trip is an experience in itself. As an old railroad employee–Seaboard and the Pullman Company–I thoroughly agree.

Okay, here is the front page feature: “Scores of volunteers have answered the call to help rebuild New Orleans. But one Ohio church keeps coming back.” The hero of this lengthy article (written by our friend Bruce Nolan, who clearly made a trip north to visit the church) is Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church. Located 15 miles north of Dayton in Tipp City, this church has sent 41 teams in our direction to help with the rebuilding and shows no signs of slowing down.

This megachurch (they run 4,400 on Sunday) is not your average spectator congregation. Just after the world saw television images of what Katrina was doing in the Gulf South, that church decided to do something. A single offering brought in $113,000. Working through their denominational channels, the church began sending teams of volunteers our way. Five teams have come so far in ’08 and six more are scheduled before the end of December.

Now, a church this active did not wake up one day and decide to help the Gulf Coast. They’ve been actively working for a long time in places like Darfar, Haiti, Jamaica, and various countries in Asia. The members cover their own expenses. Gale Pence, 57, said, “People at work think we’re nuts. Let’s see, you’re taking a week’s vacation, paying money to sleep on an air mattress and working for free? And we say, ‘Yep.'”

And what does it cost? $275 for six days in New Orleans; $2,999 for 11 days in Thailand assisting locals trying to inhibit the sex-slave trade; and $2,000 for a trip to the English language camps in the Czech Republic.

Nothing like this happens without strong leadership. The longtime shepherd of the Ginghamsburg church is Pastor Mike Slaughter, 56. He tells the Sunday worshipers, “You get no points for coming to church on Sunday.” He emphasizes, “We are to be the hands and feet of Jesus,” and “You love God by serving people. The poor have a special priority with God…. If it’s not good news for the poor, it’s not the Gospel.”

The church’s director of global missions–you can tell they are intentional about this work–says, “We tell people if you don’t want to serve, you won’t fit in here. You’ll eventually become uncomfortable.”

Interestingly, Pastor Slaughter hasn’t even been to New Orleans yet. He is a motivator of others. “Not a nurturer,” said a nurse on the New Orleans trip, “but a gooser.”

I’m going to give a couple of Bruce Nolan’s quotes from Pastor Slaughter, mainly because they’re thought-provoking. Some of them, we’d like to ask him to elaborate on, but still….

“I believe Jesus is absolute truth, but I don’t believe Christianity is absolute truth. I believe Christianity as a religion has become something significantly different than what Jesus was about.” To be comfortable in mainstream religion, he says, is almost by definition to fall short of the radical message of the gospel.

Nolan writes, “Although Ginghamsburg’s culture is strongly evangelical, emphasizing Scripture and each believer’s personal relationship with Jesus Christ, it is firmly embedded in the liberal evangelical tradition that dedicates itself to social justice rather than battling over cultural issues such as same-sex marriage and teaching evolution in the classroom.”

Four years ago while he was trying to raise money to help the victims of genocide in Darfur, Pastor Slaughter admonished his congregation, “Christmas is not your birthday. Stop acting like it.”

Instead, he urged them to cut their holiday spending in half and give the other portion to the poor in Darfur. That year, they gave $317,000, and $1 million last year.

Slaughter encourages his people to “live simply so that others may simply live.”

This may be the time to throw in a favorite story from another United Methodist pastor, my longtime friend Harold Bales of North Carolina. At the time he told me this, he was leading the First UMC in downtown Charlotte, five blocks from the church I served.

Across the street from FUMC sat a downtown park where the homeless congregated. Since Harold’s church was a cavernous, impressive old building now mostly empty for Sunday services with the rise of suburban congregations, he found himself preaching to a lot of vacant pews. That’s when he began sending his people into the park to meet their homeless neighbors. The church fed them breakfast, then encouraged them to stay for services.

One day, a longtime member of the congregation approached Harold with a complaint. “Why do we have to have those people in our church?” Harold said, “Because I don’t want to see anyone go to hell.”

She answered, “I don’t want them to go to hell either.”

He said, “I wasn’t talking about them. I was talking about you.”

3 thoughts on “What Newspapers Do Best

  1. I enjoyed what the Methodist brother said to his member. The mark of a true Christian is love; love for God, love for His church, love for sinners.

    How sad it is that many sing ”Oh how I love Jesus” yet don’t show love to their brethren, or to the lost.

  2. “I believe Jesus is absolute truth, but I don’t believe Christianity is absolute truth. I believe Christianity as a religion has become something significantly different than what Jesus was about.”

    Dr. Joe,

    Growing up you constantly told us to not just blindly believe what you preached – you always told us to read the passages and to see what the Bible said.. This quote above just brings that home for me. The Christianity so often taught today is not what the Bible says. I love my church now (Gateway Church Southlake Texas) for many reasons, but our pastor ALWAYS encourages us to read and evaluate the scriptures for ourselves. Thank you for grounding me in the scriptures so that I do know the difference between Loving Jesus and saying I am a Christian.

    Sharon Sams

  3. Hi Bro. Joe,

    I really appreciated your article on newspapers. I’m a firm beleiver. I just recently returned to the pastoral ministry after serving my local newspaper for two years.

    Here’s a Web site for newshounds and other junkies I visit regularly. It’s a place where journalists go to get online training programs, fresh ideas for stories, etc. http://www.poynter.org.

    We met at the Southern Christian Writer’s Conference a few years ago while you were a speaker. I graduated from NOBTS in 96, Clear Creek Baptist Bible College in 92. We lived in New Orleans from 94-96. God’s blessings be with you.

    In Christ,

    Joe Brooks

    Associate Pastor

    Waterville Baptist Church

    Cleveland, Tennessee

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