Bob Briner

Frank Deford: A 'Roaring Lamb' who was among the best of the best in journalism -- period

Frank Deford: A 'Roaring Lamb' who was among the best of the best in journalism -- period

I have been trying, for some time now, to decide what to write about the recent death of the legendary Frank Deford of Sports Illustrated, National Public Radio, Newsweek, etc.

I bring no special journalistic insights into what made his reporting and writing so special. In this case, the word "great" is simply inadequate.

In fact, much of the mainstream coverage of his passing focused on a much loftier question: Where should Deford be listed among the greatest sportswriters of all time? But why limit this discussion to sportswriting? Many would argue that we need to open that discussion up to his legacy in long-form, American magazine journalism -- period.

I never met Deford. However, we has a friend of close friend of mine -- the late sports-media executive and writer Bob Briner, the long-time leader of Pro-Serv Television. Briner was best known for writing a prophetic little book called "Roaring Lambs," which described the various ways that modern Christians -- his fellow evangelical Protestants especially -- had retreated from the hard task of doing constructive, first-rate work in mainstream literature, music, movies, the fine arts and other forms of mass culture.

Deford was among the diverse circle of people who endorsed the book, writing:

Too often, the message of Christianity today is promulgated by 'professional' Christians, smugly preaching to the converted. More difficult and more noteworthy -- even more Christian -- is what Bob Briner advocates: that what matters is to carry the Word and its goodness into the skeptical multicultural real world.

Briner, in turn, offered an interesting nod to Deford in the pages of "Final Roar" -- a book completed by editors and friends after he died of cancer in 1999.

In that collection of notes and writings, Briner discussed a variety of ways that Christians in the business world and academia need to step forward to help young professionals who are trying to do solid, mainstream media work (as opposed to remaining in the safe, niche world of "Christian" media). Briner added:

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A larger story behind the headlines: Why people keep fighting about Amy Grant's music

A larger story behind the headlines: Why people keep fighting about Amy Grant's music

So why do people, decade after decade, keep arguing about the music and life of Amy Grant?

To understand these news stories, it really helps to connect them to other headlines linked to religious believers whose talents allow them to work in mainstream culture. Think about all those debates about the lives of Christian football players, such as Tim Tebow and Russell Wilson. Think about what happens when religious believers, left and right, produce bestselling novels. Think about all those news stories about what is and what is not a "Christian" film. Do the Christians who work at Pixar (and they are part of the mix) make "Christian" movies?

But if you really want to understand this week's Crossroads podcast (click here to tune that in), then I'd like you to take part in a little exercise that I have used for more than a decade in lectures on faith and popular culture.

Step 1: Watch the video at the top of this post, which is Faith Hill's stunning performance of "There Will Come A Day" during the "Tribute to Heroes" special a week after 9/11, a fundraising effort that was carried on just about every single television channel in existence.

Step 2: Now read the lyrics to this song, especially the triumphant final verse and chorus:

There's a better place, Where our Father waits, and every tear, He'll wipe away
The darkness will be gone, the weak shall be strong
Hold on to your faith, there will come a day ...

Song will ring out, down those golden streets
The voices of earth, the angels will sing
Every knee will bow, sin will have no trace
In the glory of His amazing grace ...
There will come a day ... I know there's coming a day

Step 3: Now ask yourself this question: Is this a "Christian" song, in terms of the marketplace of American music? That leads to another question: Is Faith Hill a "Christian" artist, in terms of the marketplace of American music?

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