Their questions, at best, were uninspired. They lacked the boldness and audacity necessary to catch a busy reader’s eye. For this, I blamed myself.
I’m an adjunct professor teaching magazine writing at Point Park University in Pittsburgh. The 16-week course aims to ensure a bright mix of 20 undergraduate and graduate students will be ready to conduct the scintillating interviews and compose the insightful stories that will entertain and inform new generations of magazine readers.
I’d assigned the students to fulfill an essential component of every general interest publication, the Q&A. I’d failed to appreciate an essential component of good Q&As are subjects with something to say. So when students handed in interviews with their moms (Q: What first attracted you to dad?) or their cool buddies (Q: How come you never get hangovers?), I realized I needed to do something to startle their brains. I needed them to compose challenging questions that would, as every editor demands, snag cover space, make news and grab readers. So recently, I had the students prepare interviews for three newsmakers guaranteed to make headlines. The results were impressive.
Instead of “What makes you so cool with the ladies?” I got questions that practically seethed: “Why are innocent children stricken with horrible diseases that kill and disfigure them?”
One that betrayed a wounded national conscience: “Any truth to the rumor that Hurricane Katrina was the South’s punishment for slavery?”
And a plucky little query that would in one fell swoop resolve universal questions that have confounded humans for eons: “So, which came first, the chicken or the egg?”
The profile subject? Jesus Christ.
I’d assigned the students to prepare 10 questions each for Gwyneth Paltrow, Mick Jagger and Jesus Christ. As each of these newsmakers has been relentlessly quizzed for years, the questions needed to be original and provocative.
They peppered Paltrow with questions about her marriage to Coldplay frontman Chris Martin and their daughter Apple, and asked if they plan to name any subsequent children after tree fruit.
Many of the 20-somethings wanted to know what Jagger’s grandchildren call him, if he still gets high and if he ever makes fun of Keith’s amplified mumblings behind his back.
But their questions for Jesus prove these college students might give the King of Kings a better grilling than the ones scandal-plagued celebs get from renown softballer Larry King. Some sought His opinion on the accuracy of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” while others tried to get the scoop on the existence of Atlantis and extraterrestrials. Several wanted the low-down on the authenticity of “The Da Vinci Code.”
I gave good marks to students whose questions might lead to guidance for those struggling in this troubled world. What is the noblest job in today’s society? Of all the well-known public figures from the past 200 years, who most personifies your ideal way of life? What’s the one thing everyone can do to ensure they’ll get to heaven?
I’ve always like personal questions that steer subjects away from their better known roles. Several students asked if He still dabbled in carpentry and what’s the best thing He’s ever built.
The daily lives of famous people are endlessly fascinating to common folk. It would be interesting to hear Jesus relate His idea of an average day. Does He start off with coffee? Ever take time to golf? Reading habits usually provide insightful answers. One student wondered if He ever reads the Bible.
Many found a potential peek into the crystal ball irresistible. Students wondered who’ll win the war, when the world will end, and if the hometown Steelers will be crowned champions in this year’s Super Bowl. And, bet on it, even if Jesus Christ says the Steelers are a lock to succeed, there’s bound to be heretics who’ll foolishly favor the New England Patriots.
One student audaciously provided all the answers:
Q: So, Jesus, what is your opinion of the artistic portrayal of you being a white man when you’re clearly of Arabic descent?
A: I believe that the lovely thing about the world is that everyone can freely express themselves artistically. If they see me as such, then I am fine with that. I am a very tolerant person.
I gave her a C+, but promise I’ll bump it up a full grade if she can prove she actually spoke with Christ.
A favorite of mine shimmered with childlike simplicity: What do souls look like? But the best questions burned with poignant outrage: Why is there hunger? Why do you tolerate so much senseless killing in God’s name? How do you justify all the natural disasters/tragedies/accidents that cause people to question your existence?
While grading the homework, I was struck that these aren’t youths who would riot over a scribbled cartoon, even a blasphemous one, satirizing the man many of them devoutly worship. Some may consider it sacrilege to even consider posing pagan questions -- Are you really a Superstar? -- to the Son of God. I disagree and am supported by Thomas Jefferson who said, “Question with boldness even the existence of God; because if there is one, He must more approve of homage to reason than that of blindfolded fear.”
I want to believe in a God who would sit and answer heartfelt questions from students who seek a better world; one who nurtures our quest for understanding in a world that too often seems truly God-damned; one who creates minds that see a world fraught with chaos and menace and wants someone held responsible.
I gave an A to Elizabeth Perry for some great questions but mostly for starting off with the breezy and confidential, “So how are things with your father?” I think it establishes a nice rapport while still offering the subject an opportunity to make real news.
And it’s friendly enough that it doesn’t put the subject on guard for the really tough questions that’ll surely come later.