For a faithful GetReligion reader such as myself, joining the team of contributors is like a baseball fan invited to sit in the press box and share his opinions during the World Series. Although it's not quite in the same league as my beloved Texas Rangers, I'm a big fan of this weblog and its endeavor to pinpoint and expose the religion ghosts in the secular news media.
A bit about me: I'm a journalist with 20 years of experience as a reporter and editor for secular and religious media ranging from The Associated Press to The Christian Chronicle. My baptism into the exciting and complicated world of religion writing -- baptism by fire, you might say -- came in 1999 when top editors at The Oklahoman assigned me to cover Pope John Paul II's visit to St. Louis.
After nearly 10 years in the newspaper business, I knew how to chase fire trucks and police cars and burn the midnight oil with city councils and school boards. But my knowledge of the Roman Catholic Church was scant. Honestly, I had no idea what a diocese was. I didn't know the difference between a bishop and a cardinal. I had heard of the pope.
Despite a mild case of fear and trembling, I researched the basics of Catholic faith and prepared to handle the assignment. I wrote three or four Page 1 stories the week of the pope's visit. My favorite focused on a youth event where Catholic teens jammed to the ear-piercing beat of DC Talk's "Jesus Freak" before welcoming to the stage a gray-haired pontiff who walked with a cane.
A Church of Christ preacher's son with a journalism degree from Oklahoma Christian University, I was pleased to discover that I could maintain the traditional standards of journalism, striving to treat the faith of others with respect while not compromising my own beliefs.
When The Oklahoman's religion editor position became open, I left the state desk and wrote about Mormons, Muslims and many other faiths full time. I covered the Southern Baptist Convention annual meetings and the Catholic clergy sexual abuse scandals.
In 2002, I went to work for The Associated Press in Nashville. I later transferred to the AP bureau in Dallas. At AP, I received what I would describe as graduate-level instruction in religion reporting from Godbeat pros Richard Ostling and Rachel Zoll.
With AP, I wrote about battling Baptists and Episcopalians too; about e-tithing, frequent-flier rabbis and potbellied preachers; about Joel Osteen, T.D. Jakes and the Ed Youngs; about how Jesus would vote and the Knights of Columbus too; and about a million different ways (I'm exaggerating) that religion touches our culture and lives, from Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ movie to two Holocaust survivors finding each other after 60 years.
AP photographer LM Otero and I joined a Pentecostal group from Texas for a week at an orphanage in violence-ridden Juarez, Mexico. The 2,300-word story of what compelled these charismatic Christians from hundreds of miles away to spend a week in a Mexican border town made the front page of several newspapers nationwide, including the Los Angeles Times' early Sunday edition.
Twice in my time with AP, I was named a national finalist for the Religion Newswriters Association's Supple Religion Writer of the Year Award.
I left AP in 2005 to become managing editor of The Christian Chronicle, an international newspaper for Churches of Christ. I cover national news and write the Inside Story column for the Chronicle, the top national newspaper in the 2009 "Best of the Christian Press" contest sponsored by the Associated Church Press. I also write freelance stories for Christianity Today, Religion News Service and other media. Given my Chronicle work, I'll refrain from any GetReligion posts related to Churches of Christ or other streams of the Stone-Campbell Movement.
I look forward to spending time with you at GetReligion and joining in this important conversation. In case you can't tell, I'm extremely excited about this opportunity -- even if it doesn't come with free hot dogs and peanuts.
Photo: That's my son Keaton and me at a Texas Rangers game.