News From Another World
Listen to “News From Another World” by Fred Smith
As a young soldier in the Civil War, Jefferson Kidd was assigned the duty of being a messenger – a runner – traveling on foot and delivering notes between the various army units. He discovered he loved the freedom and the responsibility and his assignment “felt like a thin banner streaming, printed with some regal insignia with messages of great import entrusted to his care.” After the war, he found work first as a printer and then as an itinerant reader – one who went to small towns in Texas reading newspapers from around the world in saloons, lodges and meeting halls where people would pay a dime to hear about the world outside theirs. Illiteracy was common, people were isolated, and news was scarce.
So begins the novel, “News Of The World” by Paulette Jiles.
It was a meager living but a distinct calling after what he had seen in two brutal wars. He considered what he had read, the facts he had accumulated and thought “if people had true knowledge of the world perhaps they would not take up arms and so perhaps he could be the aggregator of information from distant places and then the world would be a more peaceful place.” Buying newspapers as he traveled, he wound his way through Texas reading interesting and imagination stirring pieces from other places because he felt “what people needed, at bottom, was not only information but tales of the remote, the mysterious, dressed up as hard information…Then the listeners would for a small space of time drift away into a healing place like curative waters.”
These were not fantasies or fiction. Yes, it was “otherworldly” but only because their world was so limited by both experience and exposure to outsiders. They could not read themselves and had never left where they lived. He read about real events – wars, inventions, fashions, packing plants in Chicago, and worlds they could only imagine. In a sense, that was the point. He took them away to far places and strange peoples – but not fantasy. He stretched them with facts and at the end of the evening he would have “briefly escorted…the mind into the lands of the imagination – far places, crisp ice mountains, falling chimney pots, tropical volcanoes.”
I have written here before that I am a Sunday School teacher. We are runners and messengers. We carry the news. We aggregate material from “other lands” that is not fantasy or imaginary. The worlds are real even though they require imagination to see them. They are hard facts and real events but because people are sometimes illiterate, blinded by what has their momentary attention, or unwilling to pay a dime, they live isolated lives that will never be stretched, informed or inspired. People might think we are talking about worlds that exist only in fiction or stories and fables made up to keep them docile and satisfied with only what can be seen to be proven. We are not. We are simply telling what we have read in the news from another land. We are telling true tales from a world that is remote.
There are times when I forget how much people need news from that other land. If they don’t hear about it from us they begin to think the small world in which they live is the only world; they despair or begin to make up their own myths and fables to satisfy their imaginations. They need to know that the world we describe outside theirs is not fantasy or made up but is more real than they could know – and we are there to tell that news.
Of course, it is not just teachers or those who are paid a dime to read the news to a fact and truth hungry world. It is all of us who know about the reality of those other lands.
“Maybe life is just carrying news. Surviving to carry the news. Maybe we have just one message, and it is delivered to us when we are born and we are never sure what it says; it may have nothing to do with us personally but it must be carried by hand through a life, all the way, and at the end handed over, sealed.”
Maybe it is. Maybe that is our real calling – to faithfully deliver the news and that message from the other world.
Art by Albert Anker
”News of the World” by Paulette Jiles
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