A Journalist’s “Wow!”

We have been discussing discussion.

Our recent concern has been on how public debate is formed and how the political crisis we face needs to be part of our ongoing discussion. How do we meet the crises – the many complex challenges – that seem to confront us on every side? That is what we have been discussing.

Well it may be a truism,  but however dangerous and many-sided the political problems confronting us, we should not contribute to public debate as if the other kinds of problems that people face don’t demand our full and undivided attention.

I often compose my Nurturing Justice blogs when I am walking along the Point Lonsdale promenade. And as any reader may know by now I give a lot of thought to politics and the problems of citizenship and so on. But as I walk I am also cognisant of the sea coming in. I cannot afford to be so absorbed in how I am going to add to my blog that I simply presume upon the tide to refrain from washing over the sea wall.

If I see my young friend Evan standing there on the wall in danger of being swept into the brine by the wave he hasn’t seen, I will have to interrupt my intense self-reflection (drop my artful exposé of the Liberal Party) and simply help him stay dry.

Indeed there are many “crises”, large and small, that may threaten us. They may do more than merely drench us or sweep those we should be looking after away. We may be swept out to sea and in need a lifesaver. In which case, it is always good to hear a story of how people have come to each other’s aid in an emergency; such stories also need to be told. If we don’t tell such stories, gaining much needed perspective and inspiration from them, then our political discussion may well lack perspective, lack “telling power”. Our political discussion too easily becomes obsessive.

So will be benefit from thinking about the way a story we tell has echoes (we may call them “presuppositions”) of our political standpoint, or more importantly what is basic to our political standpoint, the bedrock assumptions on which we build our political view?

Here’s something I just heard on “ABC News radio” in its lunchtime “feed” from NPR in the USA.

It may help us in our investigation of what is taken-for-granted aspect in American society. But it can also help us deepen appreciation for “typically American” ways of story telling, when “good news stories” get aired in the mass media. See if you find yourself reading this report in the same way I found remarkable. Yes, it might help us deepen our appreciation for “American studies” but let’s not limit our comments to the US or even North America or even the Anglophone-sphere.

Beachgoers Form Human Chain To Save Family Caught In Florida Riptide


For the purpose of this exercise I would draw attention to the journalist’s/interviewer’s “Wow!”

People, presumably holidaying, banded together on a beach to save the lives of those swept out to sea. A family was in grave danger.

Those telling the story focused upon “the remarkable aspect” of the event. People who did not know each other previously came together and pulled, pulled, pulled the stranded family to safety. Then were immersed in spontaneous celebration before all went their own ways – from the questions and the answers given we hear the interviewer and interviewee referring to what was experienced as a miraculous event – what Emile Durkheim the French sociologist might say can only be understood in terms of “la conscience collective”. This supervening “action” was brought about by people who did not know each other banding together instinctively to work co-operatively in saving lives. They succeeded.

There may be other accounts of “what actually happened”. There may be those who did not experience the event as anything remarkable in any magical sense. But I found the report remarkable – I was pleased to hear how lives were saved – but the story as told presumed that “life as per usual” is “every person in their own world with their own families”; that this is “normality” and it framed the “magical moment”. Individualistic “normativity” frames the abnormal, the remarkable, the “magical”:

SIMMONS: It was like they were destined to do it and they knew they had to do it, and then they went back to their own lives. Each person went back to their own family.
SHAPIRO: (Laughter) Wow.
SIMMONS: It’s hard to explain, but it was so remarkable to see how people jump to somebody’s rescue and then just go about like it was nothing.

So what does “Wow” mean? And what does the laughter suggest? Of course, this was no joke. Does it not suggest Ari Shapiro is saying:

“Wow! We needed reminding we are indeed (destined) to be co-responsible for each other! This wonderful story reminds us of that. We are responsible!”

As we think over the story as told we hear how people responded. Perhaps the dark clouds of a self-absorbed liberalism, with its Me Over All intentions, have parted for a minute and the sun of mutual obligation has now shone through – when the magic has run its course everyone goes back to their individualistic lives with a bright ray of moral hope internalized.

So I wonder, in comparative sociology of journalism sense, how might such an event be reported at Bognor Regis, or Portsea, or Manley, or Scheveningen, or Waiterere Beach, or even at Waikaki?

This reminds me of how journalism, sociology and our way of life are closely linked, and in a very basic way – the everyday life of loving our neighbours includes extending love to our neighbours by conveying to them the stories we tell. Story-telling has a contribution to make in its own right. And any Christian political option we may mount will have to feed off a renewal in our journalism and in our ability to tell crackin’ good stories.

BCW 14.7.17

Simply Amazing

Luke 24: 1-11 (12)

But at the beginning of a new week, while it was still very early, these [same] women came carrying the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from [the entrance to] the tomb, and upon entering they could not find the body of the Lord Jesus. And so they were in great perplexity about this and at this point two men stood by them in shining garments. And as they bowed their faces to the ground, terrified, they said to them:
“Why are you seeking the living among the dead? He is not here but has been raised. Recall how he spoke to you when you were still in Galilee saying, ‘It is necessary for the Son of Man to be handed over into the hands of sinful men and to be crucified and on the third day to be raised.’”
And they did indeed recall these words of his and returning [home] from the tomb they reported all these things to the eleven and all the others as well.
Now it was Mary of Magdala and Joanna and Mary [mother] of James with all the other women who told the apostles these things. But it seemed to them that on the face of it that these words were just talk and so they did not trust it at all.

How does one include a report about a resurrection into one’s account of the events that are presupposed by what we, who confess faith in Jesus Christ, believe? Luke has already told us that Theophilus has come to faith in Jesus Christ, the Messiah of Israel, the God-given Prince of Princes, the Lord of all.

The Good News proclaimed by the apostles has borne fruit. The faith of Theophilus is already the precedent, and perhaps the motivation, for Luke’s Gospel narrative. And so he, like us, believes that Jesus has indeed transformed our lives, and has indeed been raised even though he, and us, does not have first-hand (i.e. hand-shaking) experience of the Resurrected One. We were not there to meet with him in the 40 day period between his resurrection and ascension having thereafter been received from the apostles and the disciples to sit at God’s right hand. But this does not stop us from returning to this account and this precise point in Luke’s Gospel.

So how do he one report on the resurrection?

Luke reports on what he knows, presumably of what he has been told by reliable eye-witnesses of his coming among them, and who became custodians of his word (Luke 1:2). His Gospel is a narrative of what he has been able to collect from his investigations.
Of course, we are prone to ask: what about what is written in some Bibles in verse 12?

Why is there some question about whether this should be included in Luke’s account?

But Peter got up, and ran to the tomb, and stooping and looking in he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home amazed at what had happened (Luke 24:12).

We could speculate that this had been added by a transcriber of Luke’s Gospel at some later stage on the basis of what had been conveyed to him in the other Gospels. But if that is so, it is a transcription that simply confirms the initial amazement of the women, and all those others who would subsequently become caught up in the conviction that Jesus had been raised. And then we are confronted by the record of all 4 Gospels that Jesus presented himself to them and thus confirmed their faith that God had raised him. They then would live out their lives proclaiming his resurrection and ascension without any shadow of doubt.

It was an event of which they came to be convinced even though they had not been present when it occurred.

So there are questions for us as we turn to read this once more. We re-acquaint ourselves with Jesus’ resurrection, again and again, and not only at Easter time. This is the event that has brought us to the confession that our life is actually in the hands of this Person who was raised. But the question is not only:

How was one, like Luke, to include an account of a resurrection in his Gospel narrative? It is a valid question provoking us to reflection all the more because unlike Jesus’ last breath on the cross, there was no-one present at the precise time, watching and listening, when it occurred.

But also we might go further, having noted the above question about verse 12, and ask:

How does one transcribe Luke’s Gospel account of the resurrection when one knows, from other witnesses, that there was more to it than he has conveyed with what he has written?

And further:

How do we, in reading this book today, receive the news of Jesus’ resurrection and, in particular, reckon with what seems to be the main point of Luke’s account?

Luke says the women were terrified but when they were reminded by the angels, the messengers of God, that Jesus had already told them about this event, that he would be raised after a cruel death, they told the eleven and the others that they believed Jesus had been raised. But they were greeted with disbelief.

The Lukan amanuenses who added verse 12, seems keen to have us know that soon the return of the women Peter verified their story, at least that the tomb was empty, and yes he shared their utter amazement. And we can infer that this addition to Luke’s Gospel was based on the reports that are conveyed in the other Gospels.

Thus, we can suggest that Luke is saying to Theophilus:

This brief paragraph tells you what this is all about. It all comes down to this. It all hangs together on what happened on that first day of the week.

Luke, Paul’s loyal companion, who also seems to have been his chronicler, his scribe, now documents for Theophilus, the events that have been fulfilled in their midst. He does not call his correspondent to imagine “the moment”. Theophilus is enjoined to share in the women’s amazement.

Here is an account of a new creation, the raising of Jesus from the grave, that simply cannot be grasped by this or any literary account. The aim here is not to convey a picture; it is no appeal to Theophilus’s imagination. It is, however, what this book presupposes. Without this event this book would not have been written.

In that sense Jesus’ resurrection is like creation itself – our attempt to point to the creation is at every moment constrained by the creational ordering of our lives, of our thoughts, our imagination, our discussion, our writing, our reporting.

There is creational humility in Luke’s account. That is its glory. It is not as if Luke needed to psych himself into a special frame of mind. His “humble record” of this event is without any effort on his part to suggest “what happened”. We are simply told of the women’s loyalty, and their subsequent amazement. The Christian profession of the resurrection of Jesus can only ever be in the creaturely form of words put together to confess the new life that has been poured into our experience by this event. It is with such confessional fragility, such conviction about what God has done, that God has ordained that the Good News of his Son, Jesus Christ, is to be proclaimed.