Veteran TV news fixture Morley Shafer passed away May 19 at his Manhattan residence. In one of those truth-stranger-than-fiction twists, and adding drama and poignancy to the situation, his death occurred eight days following his official retirement from CBS’s iconic 60 Minutes. Shafer had been a presence on the program for forty-six (!) years – “the longest run anyone ever had on primetime network television”.
Previous to that, the award-winning journo – twelve Emmys among other recognitions; he “won every major award given in broadcast journalism” – had already well-established himself a serious figure in the field: As a young man, the Canadian-born Safer ditched college to chase news stories – a course he pursued with a vengeance, from age nineteen to eighty-four, in print, as an international and war correspondent and on the tube.
60 Minutes’ executive producer Jeff Fager hailed him “one of the most significant figures in CBS News history”. CBS Chairman and CEO Les Moonves reflected, “Morley was one of the most important journalists in any medium, ever … one of CBS’ and journalism’s greatest treasures.”
Four days following Safer’s formal departure from the network, it aired a 60 Minutes special honoring the Toronto native’s life and work, Forty-six million viewers tuned in. Four days following that episode, he was gone.
That final chain of events? Sobering: almost immediately upon the shuttering of Morley Safer’s lifelong profession, his life ended. Is there any way a thoughtful person can avoid being taken aback, at least a bit, by that?
There’s an admonitory picture in the newsman’s eerie decease which we the living would heed to our advantage: while God loves people unconditionally, choosing to value us because we are His handiwork, He nonetheless commands all to do something productive with the minutes, hours, days, years He’s allotted us. Bottom line: human beings are fashioned to work. When they won’t do so? Unwelcomed developments bubble up.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not implying Morley Safer was somehow struck down because he decided the time had come for his career to wrap. It’s self-evident he’d earned whatever retirement he was aiming for. I have no idea, furthermore, what was his final spiritual disposition — I truly hope he enjoyed a vital relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
That said, for me there’s no denying a riveting, nearly spooky metaphor buried in Safer’s passing: When an individual ceases being invested, consciously and ongoingly, in something productive? A kind of death sets in.
Philosophically, it’s unlikely Morley Safer was any kind of traditionalist conservative: his unflattering reporting on Marine Corps’ activity during the Vietnam War stirred some agita in Lyndon Johnson and the leathernecks serving under him; and he infamously opined he didn’t think “history has any reason to be kind” to President Ronald Reagan. Still, his work ethic? Nothing shy of exemplary. Notwithstanding its specific details, Safer’s life made a persistent and impactful difference – almost literally to its end. But when that prolificness switched off? Lights out.
None of this endorses lifetmes devoured in mere, frantic busyness, a work-aholic, all-work-and-no-play mindset or “performance orientation” (one’s deriving self-worth only from what she accomplishes). These approaches are much — and rightfully – deplored nowadays. And yes, it’s more common currently for the couch-potato, play-station junkie or smart-phone addict to be our culture’s metastasizing problem. Yet, either extreme on the sloth vs. industry continuum poses life-sapping danger.
And I’m a believing Christian, so I’m not pitching any kind of works-based salvation from sin. As the New Testament masterfully affirms over and over (Romans 4, Ephesians 2, Titus 3): fallen men’s being made right with God never hinges on their imperfect efforts. In order for needy individuals to receive forgiveness, the accent is on God; His grace, His initiative, His Spirit. The initial act of healing God and man’s ruptured relationship comes because a holy, but impossibly merciful, Divine Judge offered His innocent Son Jesus to die and rise, providing what faltering humanity never could. Our part? Simply to repentantly believe it, from our hearts receiving Jesus as Lord and Savior (Romans 10:9).
God opens a door for cleansing and transformation, so the cleansed and transformed can thereafter pour themselves into things that matter eternally. “Created for good works” (Ephesians 2:9); “bearing fruit in every good work” (Colossians 1:10); bringing forth “works” that “show” our saving “faith” (James 2:18). (Emphases mine)
Famed nineteenth-century evangelist D.L. Moody memorably proclaimed, “Before my conversion, I worked towards the Cross, but since then I have worked from the Cross; then I worked to be saved, now I work because I am saved” – “Worked”: doing valuable stuff, conducting himself meaningfully, occupied with heaven-shaped purposefulness.
God, the pre-eminent Producer, the most wondrous Worker, desires a people formed in His image; who reflect His passion for walking in significance. In fact, He’s wired the work-impulse into humanity.
He also, manifestly, understands the essentialness of “rest” (see Gen 2:2). But the “rest” part of the equation is presently garnering inordinate emphasis — and doing so to the detriment of climbing out of bed, peeling oneself away from the TV and getting at it: deploying, displaying, developing our God-gifted abilities, making them useful to better our situation, that of others and of our world – all to His glory. There’s too much to do, too many lives and circumstances desperate for repair on this blighted planet, for anyone to ineffectuallly dribble away his tenure here.
For the judicious among us, the first step: make sure your connection to God is what it ought to be, via the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Next, press in to know — daily, long-term, micro, macro – what He wants you doing with your life. Lastly, carry out those celestial commissions; be diligently about doing the business your Lord has in reserve for you.
Those who squander their earthly sojourn? In one sense, they’re dead long before they breathe their last.
Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/peabodyawards/8226346095/in/album-72157632119900207/; CC By 2.0