01 Mar 7 Bible Verses To Help Journalists Through Lent
Ruth Gledhill, editor of Christian Today reflects on the start of Lent and what tools the Bible can give journalists.
1. Mark 1.15: ‘The Kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’
Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness comes right at the start of Mark’s gospel, after his baptism by John. Things move pretty fast from then on, as in our world of so much bad news. I often compare journalists to the tax collectors of Jesus’ day. Are we the most blessed because we are the truly reviled? It turns out we are reviled most of all by Donald Trump, which actually might end up being a blessing. It is funny how the gospels can turn out to be true in the most unexpected ways, even today. But however unjust the US President’s attacks on our profession, surely we all have things we have done to repent of – the unanswered emails, being rude to a press officer, failing to Tweet our stories. We can start our repentance by reporting the good news as well as the bad news, and never the fake news.
2. 1 Peter 5.6: ‘Humble yourself therefore, under God’s mighty hand.’
The Apostle Peter was appealing to those in the emergent Christian community not to lord it over others, but to serve, to be humble in the eyes of God. Journalism is not so much a profession of the ego as it was two decades or so ago, when access to the printed page or the television screen was perceived, albeit incorrectly in some ways, as a gateway to power and prestige. The internet has changed all that, and now anyone can be a journalist and get their message ‘out there’. Throughout my career in Fleet Street and since, I’ve consciously tried to see my job as ‘service’, even if not always successfully so. Now though, in Christian journalism, the sense of being actively useful is one of the most rewarding aspects. Most journalists I know, in the specialist or the mainstream media, Christian or not, see their jobs as service in the light of truth.
3. Mark 9.9-10: ‘As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what ‘rising from the dead’ meant.
The ultimate embargo – the Resurrection. And the disciples obeyed it. It is perhaps surprising how often journalists, even in this age of relentless open sharing on multiple platforms, are still entrusted with secrets, or stories given under embargo, and how often they respect that. Successful journalism is built almost completely on trust. There is so much to learn about life and humanity from study of the period of Jesus’ life, and the 40 days temptation in the wilderness. One of the most important lessons is learning to trust, even when we don’t understand what we are being told, or why. Just as our sources have to trust us, we have to trust them.
4.Matthew 4.3-4: The tempter came to him and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’ Jesus answered, ‘It is written: Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’
Fact checking is one of the most important aspects of being a journalist. In the old canonisation process for Catholic sainthood, a ‘devil’s advocate’ would test the evidence of a miracle, or holy life. Modern computer programming is built on the if-then-else path. If this, then that, else the other. Satan, nearly two thousand years before the first microchip existed, used basic programming logic to try and catch Jesus out. ‘If you really are the Son of God, then do this, else you must be something other.’ Jesus dispassionately circumvents the trap, and turns the logic over to the ‘word’. Journalists likewise have to learn not to be manipulated by appearances, by what can seem logical or rational, but to look beyond, to the higher meanings behind the words being said.
5. Joel 2.13: ‘Rend your heart and not your garments.’
This book starts with a chilling prophecy of darkness and gloom – the Day of the Lord is coming. Certainly last year was one of considerable darkness and gloom for many. Lent is a time to contemplate the mistakes we might have made, and how to rectify them. We might dismiss old fashioned public displays of penance – tearing garments, wearing sackcloth and ashes – as not relevant to the modern era of conscious ‘well-being’ and self-realisation. After making a mistake, I know I can go round looking miserable for days, depressing my colleagues, beating myself up, even self-harming in mild but punishing ways. Did I vote the right way in the Referendum? Should I really have called Guildford Cathedral the ugliest in Britain in a recent headline in Christian Today? Lent is a time of penance. And sometimes the most effective penance can be the one that comes from examining our hearts, and changing our behaviour, rather than purely indulging in self-hatred.
6. Genesis 3.19: ’Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return.’
The journalistic equivalent of this used to be,’Today’s newspapers wrap tomorrow’s fish and chips.’ One of the terrifying things about the internet at first seemed to be that nothing would ever disappear. It is not quite so simple though. The cycle of life and death is a godly thing and it seems right and proper that we should be here for a bit, and then be gone. We might no longer buy newspapers to wrap round chips the next day, but we can still disappear to the bottom of Google search. We can suffer the indignity of being blocked on Twitter or unfriended on Facebook. We can be deleted. Do we exist if we are no longer ‘out there’? Are we reduced to inconsequential dust when our words fail to appear on that day’s Google news? There can be a strange sense of an undead eternity in virtual existence. Be that as it may, however long our Facebook profiles may endure, we must still remember that one day our bodies certainly will return to dust.
7. Matthew 7.12: ‘For in everything, do to others as you would have them do to you.’
When writing headlines, or asking questions, it can be helpful to ask myself first, ‘How would I feel if that headline was being written about me?’ Respect for the feelings of others as well as for objective truth must be part of a journalist’s practice. There is no doubt that over the ages we have had a bad rep. One among many reasons is perhaps a neglect of this command, which Jesus himself said summed up the law and the prophets. We need to treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves. Of course I cannot claim at all to have practised this well. It is the perfect command, because it contains the essence of humanity within its injunction to empathy. I’ll be trying to fast on Fridays this year. I might even try to go a few days without chocolate this Lent. But perhaps more important, I can try to smile at the strangers pushing past on the Underground, or honking their car horns through the narrow streets of London, rather than stare blankly or worse. I can just try to remember to love my neighbour as myself, to do unto others as I would be done to. Not only my life will be better, but so will the lives of family, friends and the dog. There are many useful words in the Bible, but this text is among the best of all. It is succinct and memorable. If we journalists can walk around channelling this, then perhaps as well as reporting on the sin as well as the ‘good news’ within the world, we can also actively help make it a better place.
Find Ruth on Twitter @RuthieGledhill