Offering a departing blessing to readers
How do you say goodbye? I've wrestled with that question since I made preparations to leave the newspaper last month.
How do you say goodbye to dedicated colleagues who have been cordial and caring, fun-loving and witty?
And how do you say goodbye to countless readers in the Wichita, Kan., area and beyond who have written, e-mailed and called to express their feelings about a particular column or story you've written?
What I do know is that it's time to say goodbye.
I've been at The Wichita Eagle since December 1983. I've worked as a reporter, columnist and editor -- at times all three -- and have won some awards for my efforts (the gravy on the main course of my work).
My primary focus -- and love -- was on all things religious. What a field to harvest.
I've reported on the competing sides in the abortion wars. I've covered Pope John Paul II's visit to San Antonio in 1987, interviewed PTL theme park builder Roe Messner as the Jim Bakker empire began to crumble that same year, and covered at least a half dozen denominational conventions around the country.
And I've told the stories of people whose faith shaped their lives in all kinds of circumstances and who have wondered whether faith was fleeting.
When I started writing a column in 1989, I wasn't sure what focus to take. Would it be general comments about religious matters in the city, state, nation and world? (I did my share of those.)
Would I turn it into a soapbox to promote a particular point of view? (Well, yes, in a way.)
What I slowly began to realize is that whatever I write, some readers will be edified, others turned off, and still others will flip past my smiling mug to other morsels in their morning paper. So be it.
I thought about political columnists. Most are identified as having a particular agenda. It's easy to skip over those who don't spin your brand of politics.
Most religious columnists -- and there are significantly fewer of them -- tend to be generalists so as not to offend anyone. Or they're so provocative that they achieve the same results as political columnists.
Could there be a different way to write about religion?
I chose to speak about faith from faith. I decided I wouldn't proselytize, yet I would urge readers to think about the spiritual nature of their lives and of the world at large.
I knew I couldn't be a C.S. Lewis, whose writings were, as one commentator described them, "rich in analogies that are both arguments and illustrations in one." But I could write about what theologians have called a "longing for God" that stirs in every human heart.
I am unabashedly Christian in a country that is increasingly illiterate and confused about the religion.
While not disparaging other religions, I wanted to urge believers of whatever stripe, and those whose longing is muted, to think of matters greater than themselves:
How do I make sense of the Katrinas and tsunamis that senselessly strike? What is my obligation to others who struggle in life to get by? And what is my ultimate goal, my destiny?
The longing for something more than this life can give -- the prelude to a deeper connection to the creator of all -- is universal. I wanted to speak about such a longing, regardless of a person's beliefs.
For me, the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ is central. His redemptive act shapes my life and how I understand human existence.
Writing for a newspaper with readers of various viewpoints, I decided to nudge at life's vexing problems and pray that the Spirit would move in subtle and surprising ways.
Only God knows how and when a life is kindled.
But now, after more than 800 columns, it's time to end this joyous, sometimes frustrating endeavor. I thank each of you who bothered to read what I wrote, even those who challenged me and forced me to rethink my beliefs.
It's not easy saying goodbye.
So, how do I say it to those who have made this time of sharing so rewarding? How do I end nearly a quarter of a century of writing about my heart's desire?
By expressing the true sense of goodbye in the way it was meant to be:
God be with you.