Regular readers of GetReligion may recall that I am not a big fan of my local daily newspaper, The Palm Beach Post. I could cite a number of past complaints, but we will settle for this one (a rant about what I believe is the weakest weekly religion-beat column in America). However, I appreciate the work of Elizabeth Clarke, the newspaper's actual religion-news specialist. The problem is that her work is rarely featured by the Post and she is often -- sadly -- not part of the coverage team for controversial stories about religion and culture. There is more that I could say, based on my interaction with religious leaders in Palm Beach County, but I will leave it at that. The bottom line: If you have a good religion writer, turn her loose.
This past weekend, Clarke had a quartet of stories in the Accent pages based on a simple Easter-weekend theme, captured in the simple headline: "Resurrected lives." That's the whole headline. The package deserved more promotion.
The basic idea was to let four Christian believers tell moving, human stories of how they once were lost and now are found. In one case, Bob Teresi went from drug pusher and abuser to playing Jesus in a local Passion play. While watching just such a drama when his life turned around.
. . . (The) crucifixion scene got him.
"As they nailed him to the cross and I could hear the thud, thud, thud, that was the turning point," he says.
He left with a desire to learn more and he kept going back. When the church Christmas pageant came around that year, Teresi was asked to play Jesus.
"I said, 'Well, that church has lost it if they think this cat's going to do that,' " he recalls thinking. "I don't act."
It's not a simple story, it just seems that way since it is told in his own words.
The other stories share many common themes. In the case of Father Justin Foster, I knew some of the details since the second-, or third-career Orthodox priest is a friend of mine. He found his faith once again while working in Saudi Arabia, far from the pain of his divorce and earlier life in Hollywood. He ended up in a monastery and, now, leads an Orthodox Church in America mission parish in Palm Beach County.
. . . (Amid) all the symbols and rituals, he's finally so comfortable in his ancient faith. "It's a daily journey," he says. "You have to, every morning, start again. It's almost like the AA program because we're all sinners."
This is not hard news. But sometimes the big religion stories are linked to the quiet, daily details of life -- the little miracles that don't show up on page one. In evangelical circles these stories are called "testimonies."
Many newspaper leaders are trying to find new, authentic voices of faith to feature in the news pages. This is one way to do it, offering people of different faiths a chance to tell their stories -- with little editing. Here is my only fear: It is easy to demote religion from a public force, a public reality, down to a quiet, personal, totally subjective subject with a tiny footprint in hard news.
When that happens, the news is warped. Truth is, millions of people take their private beliefs into the public square. Journalists have to find a way to tell those stories, as well.
But kudos to Clarke for these quiet, personal, yet effective Easter features.