At my son's basketball practice last week, one of the other dads told me he'd just retired from the police force after more than a quarter-century on the job.
For part of that time, "I was the one who put you into a body bag," he said.
Asked why he gave up the badge, one of his reasons was simply, "It gets to you after a while."
My brother-in-law is a cop too. He told us about a case he handled once where a policeman-gone-bad killed his girlfriend and tried to clean up all the blood in the bathtub. But during the investigation, the technicians sprayed the bathtub with Luminol, a chemical that reveals, for a short time, evidence like blood proteins.
"It lit up like a Christmas tree," my brother-in-law said.
I think about that line a lot - and not just around the holidays. Because, to a lesser extent, journalists deal with the same challenge of not becoming jaded by the garbage they are constantly exposed to.
Even those of us who are not crime reporters are vulnerable. We read most of what our colleagues write, not to mention 100 stories from the wire services and 50 more during our research when we're expected to become instant experts on a subject so we can explain it to the public the next day.
I have sometimes become uncomfortable with Christian friends who are burning with indignation about some social issue or current event. With more extensive background information, and the gut assessments of human behavior that years of observation bring, journalists sometimes have a different perspective. I used to say I saw things in shades of gray, but that's not quite right. I see many sides to life and many sides to people. I see life through a multifaceted prism and am not as dogmatic or knee-jerk in my reactions as some people I know.
Seeing the world in polarized, black-and-white images is an easy trap to fall into. Keeps life tidy. No wrestling with dilemmas that take a lot of time and evaluation in a culture where time is as scarce as compassion. But prisms are our friends. Let me give you another example.
When I covered the Terri Schiavo case for the Chicago Tribune, it would have been easy to automatically, even unconsciously, side with the parents. The Schindlers were very vocal, very warm and friendly. Their St. Petersburg walkup is unbelievably modest, almost dingy, with its green carpeting and kitchen appliances that saw better days 20 years ago. The condo was a shrine to their daughter and numerous Catholic saints they petitioned to help her.
By contrast, Michael Schiavo would never talk to anyone except CNN's Larry King on occasion. He was tall and menacing, had a short fuse and insisted the case was a private matter between Terri and him. He left most of the public statements to his lawyer, George Felos, a shrewd, right-to-die attorney who reminded me of Zen enthusiast and basketball coach Phil Jackson with his confidence and his embrace of Eastern religion. In talking with him, I couldn't help but notice that there was no love lost between Michael Schiavo and him.
Yet the court that so consistently ruled against the Schindlers was run, ironically, by a conservative Christian judge. He received more than his share of threats from people of his own faith. The legal aspect that doomed the Schindlers was a procedural mistake by one of their early lawyers who allowed Felos to get an independent guardian for Terri dumped from the case without replacing him.
And the court record made it clear that, in the early days of the case, Terri's parents visited her perhaps once a month -- the feud between Terri's father and husband is really at the crux of the case, and the most tragic figure in the saga was Terri's mom, caught in the middle. Terri's siblings didn't visit much at all in the early days. Maybe Michael scared them away, maybe not.
Years later, when the media hordes descended and the camera's red light went on, the guest register suddenly became much more active. But from the beginning, her husband was there almost every day, a nursing home's "nightmare" - yes, that's the word used in the court records -- because of his demands for superlative care for Terri.
And at the very end, it was nauseating to see the way controversial "Christian" activist Randall Terry used the case to drum up donations to his own cause while, not to be outdone, representatives for the Schindlers' priests trumpeted the clergy's availability to reporters for high-profile interviews and touted their forthcoming national speaking tour. But in our sound-bite world, a lot of people missed those nuances.
Now, please understand that I'm not interested in making a political statement. I merely point out these things to say that people of faith too often make snap judgments. And they were out in droves down in Tampa Bay. But too often, the truth is in the details. You can miss a lot if you're not careful.
Are the majority of journalists liberals in their private lives? In my experience, yes. Do their biases, conservative, liberal or somewhere in between, come out in their journalism? Usually, no. All of us strive not to let that happen and, by and large, we're successful.
Is there a left-wing or an anti-Christian bias in the media? Not at all. Forget for a moment the Fox News Channels and MSNBCs of the world. I'm talking about dyed-in-the-wool journalists who strive for a balanced, fair presentation of the facts, not loudmouths more concerned with ratings points than impartiality.
You really should check out our e-mail inboxes and the "comment" sections on media websites sometime. The letters with the most darts typically come from people who dare to call themselves Christians, the ones who are supposed to have the love of Christ coursing through their souls. Instead, too many of these people are self-righteous Pharisees who eagerly relish the job of attack dog, with or without the lipstick that Sarah Palin alluded to.
Yet the Bible clearly states that, if we want to judge somebody, we should start with ourselves and our fellow believers (1 Peter 4:17). And if you're truly a Christian, it should also make you quake with humility that "judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment" (James 2:13). Are we showing mercy to those we disagree with? Doesn't look like it.
Journalists see the hypocritical behavior and hatred of the bad apples of the Christian church. When we're not hearing from the poison pens of the self-righteous club, we're the ones who have to go to the police station to pick up the mug shot of the youth-group leader who sexually abused the 14-year-old girl under his care. We're the ones who have to circumvent the bureaucracy of the archdiocese for the truth about the priest who fondled an 8-year-old boy.
We see the worst that a sin-soaked human nature has to offer. When you see that every day over the course of a career, you start growing a shell like an enormous turtle. You get cynical. You lose a sense of wonder, and the possibility of human goodness disappears as quickly as the evidence technicians cart off the jailed pastor's computer that's caked in child pornography. Journalists don't need threats; we need people of faith to pray for us as we deal, like a cop or a lawyer or a therapist, with a fallen world's fallout.
Yet I see too many Christians not using the minds God gave them, content to march in lockstep with whatever their leaders are telling them. They seem more interested in politics than prayer, more keen on Republicanism than revival.
They view themselves as the new chosen people because they are Americans, conveniently ignoring the fact, as others have noted before me, that this country was born through the genocide of one race and built through the enslavement of another. The New Testament clearly admonishes us that we evangelicals are aliens and strangers on this planet. But too many of us are sinking roots in the wrong, weed-choked soil. If you want to call someone to repent, we should be first in line.
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