No pepperoni, plenty of ghosts: Generic Christians open a pizza cafe as a vague 'experiment of faith'

It's not as if NPR totally ignores the religion angle in a recent feature on a Cincinnati-area pizza cafe that "has a big heart."

In fact, that angle appears way up high in the 1,200-word piece:

Here's what might have sounded like a pretty shaky business plan for a neighborhood pizza cafe: "We'll only be open one day a week. Won't do any advertising. No prices on the menus. We'll serve mostly what we grow in the garden – and no pepperoni. And we'll look on this work as an 'experiment of faith.'"

That's what Erin and Robert Lockridge said two years ago, when they decided to open a pizza place called Moriah Pie in Norwood, a small town part of greater Cincinnati.

The better days in Norwood, an old neighborhood of two-story houses with porches, came to a close in 1989 when the Chevrolet plant shut down. But an empty, dusty café was waiting on a street corner, and Lockridges decided to start making pizzas there.

These two shared an interest in urban farming and had been working together in Norwood. Robert was what he calls a "parish farmer" sponsored by a church. On their honeymoon, driving from Novia Scotia to Maine, they talked about what might come next.

"We stopped at ... Eastport and we camped that night, and the next morning went to a very local diner," recalls Erin. It was a busy place. And in that Maine diner, the newly married Ohio couple could see their path ahead.

"We watched all the locals come in and get their breakfast and we watched the way that the waitress behind the counter tended to all these people," Erin says, "And it was really beautiful to watch her 'cause she was very aware of everybody there. She was almost like a pastor to them."

Just in those first six paragraphs, NPR makes reference to an "experiment of faith," to Robert Lockridge's work as a "parish farmer" and to a waitress who "was almost like a pastor." 

But as the reader who provided the tip on this story pointed out, "This one's kind of like the generic Christian laundry stories, only with pepperoni." Actually, Moriah Pie doesn't serve pepperoni. But you get the idea: There's not a lot of religion meat in this report. It's full of holy ghosts.

NPR never digs deeper into the couple's faith or how they see it playing out in their Friday night pizza parlor.

Readers learn that the Lockridges don't have set prices (customers decide how much, if any, payment to leave in a cloth envelope) and that Robert and Erin "both did graduate work in Christian studies." 

But obvious questions go unasked, such as why the couple chose the name "Moriah Pie." A quick Google search turns up an Xavier University student newspaper story with the answer:

“We named it Moriah Pie after the story of Abraham and Isaac in the Bible when Abraham is asked by God to sacrifice his son,” Erin said. “It’s kind of a weird story, but when God provided the ram instead of his son to sacrifice, Abraham names that mountain ‘Mount Moriah,’ names God as ‘Godwho- will-provide.’”
“The way we don’t name prices and entered into this kind of economic relationship with people that’s not as much in our control, we’re trying to venture into deeper trust that God will provide for us and for the people who come, and we don’t always know what it looks like.”

Another question: What is the couple's specific religious affiliation (beyond generic Christian)? That information, too, is readily available with a few quick keystrokes. For example: 

Erin is part of the Orthodox Christian Church, and loves its tangible, sensual, symbolic worship, its rich theology, and its robust affirmation of the created world.

But the NPR story addresses the religion angle only in the most generic way possible (including a reference to a lowercase "bible"):

There are only a few signs that the café has a purpose beyond pizza. In the kitchen just before opening, Robert gathers the Moriah staff for a prayer. On a windowsill out in the dining room there's a bible and a prayer book.

So what's the problem — from a journalistic perspective – with NPR's approach? 

The generic story is incomplete, like a sundae without ice cream or a profile that fails to mention which sport an athlete plays. Readers can't really understand the pizza cafe or the Lockridges without better insight into their background, their motivation and, yes, their religious beliefs.

Quality journalism requires the kind of specificity and nuance that this piece lacks. Next time, please give me the cheese, the sauce and the crust.

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