News writing implies an ongoing assessment of what is important, and what is not
March 1867 was a busy month for Great Britain’s Parliament. There was a long list of bills to be discussed and passed. One day, according to the Journals of the House of Lords, a good deal of time was spent discussing a proposed sugar tax. Later that day, the House came alive when arguing for or against a proposed reduction on a tax on dogs. “I see no reason why the duty payable for a greyhound should be reduced 75 percent, nor why the tax upon poodles and pug dogs should be reduced,” thundered one lord, according to a recent captivating account by Tristin Hopper in the National Post.
“from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth”
In between, however, Colonial Secretary Henry Herbert, Earl of Carnarvon, introduced a seemingly obscure item by, first of all, offering an apology. “I must unaffectedly ask for the forbearance of the House,” he said, promising “not to detain your lordships too long.”
After such an unpromising start, Herbert introduced the British North America Act. After passing in the House and receiving royal consent by Queen Victoria, the new law gave birth to what today is Canada, a nation established to rule—in the words of Psalm 72:8—“from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth.”
Knowledge Is Not Enough
Looking back 150 years after the fact, the British leaders’ lack of vision is astonishing. It was not for lack of knowledge, though. Parliamentarians knew what they were getting into. It would be the first independent state within the British Empire, a country several times the size of Scotland and England. They knew they were creating a nation with a massive landmass, a country with enormous power and natural resources.
And yet, they did not bother themselves to care.
During the discussion, most parliamentarians stayed silent. Some of them left the room and skipped the reading of the bill altogether. “This measure has not excited much interest in the House or the country,” said Member of Parliament John Bright according to records.
Finally, the bill passed easily with just one minor modification—the phrase that “every British subject” could vote was changed to “every male British subject,” lest women thought they could vote too. And so Canada was born, a land which is by many measures—and forgive my bias here—one of the great countries in the world.
What is Important?
Seventh-day Adventist Christians are by definition witnesses of God’s grace to the world. In witnessing about God’s grace, however, they must constantly decide how to portray that message to an ailing world. Be it as a church worker or as lay member, the dilemma is the same: What image of God and His truth I am trying to portray? What is essential, and what is not? What is non-negotiable, and what should stay on the sidelines?
For those of us working in church news, it is a daily quandary. What deserves coverage, and what should be ignored? What must be shared with the world church? Which stories can be uplifting, enlightening, or just essentially informative? Which captivating stories must we, however, let go to protect missionaries, respect sensibilities, or favor a greater good? Which ones need to be told, in spite of it all?
Keeping balance is not always easy. In an era where everyone’s opinion can be instantly shared with the whole world, the “sugar tax” trap—giving too much importance to what is not, while ignoring what is essential—is an ongoing and present danger. As any regular contributor of church publications may attest, it is not uncommon to receive letters with claims of being too conservative or too liberal, too blunt or too complacent, too self-righteous or too compromising—sometimes, as a reaction to the same single piece!
Tips from the Source
While ultimate answers to the questions above may seem elusive, as a writer, I do not know a better way than going time after time to the Source—God’s Holy Word—for enlightenment. What is important in the Word should be important for me too.
As I read the Scriptures, wonderful tips begin to emerge. “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind’…. [And] ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:37-40). “What does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic. 6:8). “Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me” (Matt. 25:40). “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:30). “I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth—to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people” (Rev. 14:1).
Here is my testimony: It is those principles that keep me going. They make me jump out of my bed every morning, eager to tell the story. I find those principles give me background and perspective, as they confidently push me forward. And to them I often go for much-needed tune-ups and adjustments.
I do not know a better way. And I cannot do otherwise. Lest I am found wasting my time on pampered poodles.