The "Dewey Defeats Truman"-sized headlines on the April 17 issue of The Philadelphia Inquirer caught my eye in the 7-Eleven where I stopped to buy a Tracfone refill card for my trip to Michigan: "We're Golden." The large accompanying photo was of a roomful of people high-fiving and doing a victory dance. What was the good news? I wondered.
The subtitle told the story: "Inquirer school-violence series wins Pulitzer." Another photo featured the upraised arms of the exulting editor, with this explanation: "The stories expressed the ways in which we are failing this generation." So then, a serialized report on widespread violence in our institutions of learning ("30,000 serious incidents over the last five school years") is the occasion for all this good cheer.
No doubt the staff of pavement-pounding, sleuthing journalists deserve the public service award bequeathed on them by the heirs of Joseph Pulitzer, but the dissonance of text and visuals was jarring and prompted this immediate recollection in my spirit:
"Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven" (Luke 10:20).
The apostles are on the verge of a little victory dance in the end zone after their maiden voyage of healing and casting out demons. Jesus does not rebuke them, but tempers them: It's fine to be glad that the unclean spirits are subject to you, but it's much finer to meditate on the fact that you will be in heaven with me eternally. Surfeit of dwelling on your touchdown will only produce pride. Dwelling on your salvation will never produce pride, but only humility, because you cannot think about that fact without thinking about the cost to God.
When a man in Corinth was caught in a serious sin, Paul checked the Corinthians in their gloating and said it was a time for sackcloth and ashes (1 Corinthians 5:2), because this sin brought shame on the whole community. The Inquirer's Pulitzer is nice, but the occasion for its acquisition is so shameful and depressing that the photo embarrassed me rather than cheering me. As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once said to a gathering of preening Harvard grads:
"The forces of Evil have begun their decisive offensive. You can feel their pressure, yet your screens and publications are full of prescribed smiles and raised glasses. What is all the joy about?"
Let us rejoice for five minutes that our paper won the prize for documenting evil. And then let us go back to grieving and fighting the evil.