A simple story: God, Zo and a kidney

According to the seminars offered by our friends at Poynter.org, one of the quickest ways to improve religion news coverage in the MSM is for journalists simply to stop removing the faith elements of stories in which they are already present. This is the opposite of trying to find religion news.

The goal is to stop ignoring it or, worse, editing it out of the lives of oridinary people all around us. Click here for a fine essay on this by Poynter fellow Aly Colon.

Well, Alonzo Mourning of the NBA's Miami Heat is not an ordinary person -- he is one of those stunning towers of mind, heart, talent and muscle that achieves riches and fame in media and sports. Down here in South Florida, he has been a major force in community life, and his life-and-death struggle with kidney disease is more than a sports story. It has been an epic human drama.

And this is precisely how The Miami Herald's NBA-beat reporter Israel Gutierrez (is that a South Florida byline or what?) handles a little-known part of the Zo comeback in a sports-page feature about the relationship between the superstar and the cousin, Jason Cooper, who donated the kidney that saved his life.

There is a faith element to the story and Gutierrez does not play it up, but he also does not ignore it. He just lets the people tell their story, and that is enough.

This was, apparently, one of those private, personal stories in which chance events took place that the people involved later decided were not chance at all. It was, they said, a God thing. Here is the key passage. You need to read the whole story to understand the part about the television set.

Cooper offered to take the necessary tests to see if he could donate one of his kidneys to Mourning. It was an eerie coincidence that Cooper decided to make the trip to visit his grandmother on that particular day, and that the news came across the TV screen at that particular time. Some would say it's more than a coincidence. Whatever the explanation, that moment put in motion an act of selflessness and kindness that would reinvigorate an NBA star, and created an unbreakable bond between two cousins who didn't figure they would ever be this close again.

"Jason, man -- he's a lifesaver," Mourning said. "It's just God sent how it all worked out. Things don't happen like that just because it happens. People just say, 'Oh, it's a coincidence.' No it's not. There's a reason why Jason went to that hospital to see his aunt on her deathbed and I just so happened to come up on the television. I mean, come on, that's not a coincidence. That's somebody higher than us planning all that out."

It's a simple story, the kind that people tell all the time. It's nice to see it in the sports pages of a major newspaper, where fans are more likely to read about steroids and sucker punches than faith and the family ties that bind.

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