Full Transcript of Episode 14: Interview With Religion Writer Bob Smietana
Lizette Beard: [00:00] Podcasting from Nashville, Tennessee, this is “Keep Asking,” the weekly podcast that helps you dive in a bit deeper and wider into the research providing insight into today’s church and culture.
Lizette: [00:16] Hello, and welcome back. This is Lizette Beard, and I’m here with Scott McConnell and our very special guest, today, Bob Smietana. Bob is a writer with our communications team here at LifeWay, but he is also a world‑renowned religious writer. I’ve heard people say you’re one of the best in the country.
Bob Smietana: [00:58] I have lots of good friends who lie.
Bob: [01:02] I am world famous.
Lizette: [01:04] Oh. I do not doubt that. Real quick Bob, what’s a religion writer?
Bob: [01:09] A religion writer is somebody who writes about religion, religious practice, religious…It could be anything. It can be someone inside a religious institutions that covers them, or it can be a journalist at a for‑profit publication or non‑profit, secular publication.
[01:24] Just writes about everything from the ideas behind religion to the nitty‑gritty practice to the arguments over money, to the institutional politics, and then how religion affects all the different aspects of our lives.
Lizette: [01:38] You’ve written on not just the Christian faith, but you’ve written on a wider variety.
Bob: [01:45] Yeah, so Christians, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, people who worship fairies, cat cultists…That’s my favorite one.
Bob: [01:56] Let’s see. That’s most of them. Pretty much every religion. Jews, Jains, Sikhs.
Lizette: [02:02] Since we’re beginning to repeat a few…
Bob: [02:05] Did I get Sikhs? Jains and Sikhs are different.
Lizette: [02:07] No, no. I think you hit Sikhs. I was just giving you a little bit of a hard time.
Bob: [02:14] Pretty much every…Then people who don’t believe because they still have practices or they have views about religion.
Scott McConnell: [02:23] As a religion writer, how is that approached different than just a sociologist that’s describing an aspect of society?
Bob: [02:30] It’s a lot like that. You’re telling stories. You’re not data driven, you’re story driven. The data helps reinforce the story, so you want to know how I’m associated. Say you’re going to write about a particular sect of people.
[02:45] I’Do we have any Baha’is in Nashville? One that works here in Nashville? How many Baha’is are in the country? Are there enough Baha’is for us to really pay attention to?
[02:55] You really describe it…It’s more like anthropology, sociology. The hard news, you’re looking at their money, and their finances. Sometimes you’re looking at, “Here’s their ideals and do their ideals match up what they actually practice?”
[03:13] You’re describing it, you’re not really endorsing it or you’re not trying to win. I just tell people, I get to write about people and talk to them about God all day long and never had to win. Now, if somebody’s being a crook, you could say being abusive, that is where you do take a sort of…You describe what they do and where does it fit in ethics and is this harmful?
[03:40] It’s always hard. There’s kinds of religions that are harmful and there’s kinds of religions that might be dangerous. I’ve covered snake handlers, Pentecostal snake handlers. That’s a dangerous faith, but they’re likely ultimate…They’re the base camp jumpers of religion.
Bob: [04:00] They’re doing something that’s dangerous, but is it harmful or not? As oppose to someone who’s an abusive cult leader who’s molesting people and stealing their money.
Lizette: [04:13] This has immediately taken a different turn than a lot of our other podcasts.
Scott: [04:16] Yeah, but how helpful is that in terms of mentality for a ministry leader to be thinking about, “How can I be open‑minded in learning without always trying to win in that investigation?”
Bob: [04:33] There’s a lot of it yet, I mean, people will tell me what they think God’s telling them. In general, I just say, “OK, that’s what you think.” I’ll say, “You let people describe in their own words what they heard, what they think.” Because did God tell them that? I don’t know. Now I can ask them, “How does this fit with your religious ideas and your practice? How does these statements fit with this behavior.”
[05:01] I’m not trying to tell you whether any group is right or not. What particular interpretation of the Bible or whatever holy book or what kind of behavior is right or not, but I can say, “Here’s what they say. Here’s how they interpreted differently. Does this measure up to what they promised?”
Lizette: [05:21] Because of just the nature of the job, it’s a different posture than a lot of our listeners who are in ministries, nonprofits, and advocacy groups, or pastors of churches. It’s a little bit of a different angle and we’re going to talk to Bob about his approach when he’s approaching a big story and what research is involved there.
[05:45] One observation I had when I went to the Religion Newswriters wingding you have every year.
Bob: [05:53] The association convention?
Lizette: [05:54] Yes. Sitting there at a table of one of the meals with so many writers from around the country and I realized, because of the nature of what you do and your posture of learning and asking questions instead of always telling, I mean, you’re retelling the story, but the scope of what they understood was mindboggling. As far as nuance among denominations and then also how those fit in the picture with other religions.
[06:30] Because they’d ask so many questions, they’d ask so many different groups. It was something I don’t necessarily—a breadth. Maybe breadth is the right way to say it. A breadth I don’t necessarily hear from my seminary friends.
Bob: [06:48] I tell people it’s like, “If you’re a sports writer, it’d be like covering baseball, basketball…major leagues baseball, the NFL, the NBA, the NHL, major league soccer, and then lacrosse, and cricket, and all the small leagues.”
Lizette: [07:04] That’s good.
Bob: [07:06] You need to know all the kind of…That’s the great part about it. So many people see…The nice part is that so many people don’t see outside of their own. Say Christians, how many Baptists know how the Church of Christ operates, or the Catholics, or the Methodists, or the African Episcopal Methodists, or the Free Will Baptist versus the United Baptist, or the United Pentecostals, or all these different kind of groups?
[07:36] They have some similarities in major doctrine, but their practices are all so different, in the way that they see…Like the Baptists are big on the autonomy local church, so nobody can come in. Other groups have a bishop who can come in. The bishop doesn’t always have as much power as you think he has. Sometimes they think they got more power.
[07:53] In Baptist life, there’re people who’ve got more influence than other people. There’s always nuances. It’s great because there’s always something really crazy that you didn’t know. I mean crazy in a good way. Something awesome you didn’t know.
[08:08] One of the things that I did find, when you asked before, “How do I approach it differently?” I’m always willing to report what people say. I’m also always skeptical. I’m the worse person in church because the pastor is telling me a story and I’m going, “That’s not true.” I’m always down there. I’m fact checking their sermon.
[08:32] Our pastor used to always tell these stories. He had this crazy story about Winston Churchill being saved as a boy by some guy and then paying for him to go to school somewhere and then inventing penicillin. I’m like, “That is just crazy and it’s not true.”
Bob: [08:50] In another angle, we used to do every year this season to give thing. Every newspaper does it. It’s seasonal, around Christmas time give money to help people out. For a while, every time I did them, they were all crooks. Every charity I was looking at, they’re crooked, they’re crooked, they’re crooked, they’re crooked. I hate doing it.
[09:09] Anyone says that, “Our charity does blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” You can go look at their tax returns called the 990, finance tax return. You can ask them to prove that they’re doing what they say they do because people are often aspirational in their claims of the aspects of their charity and they know they were interested in the donor experience.
[09:30] They want you to feel really good about giving to whatever XYZ charity, or ministry, or whatever it is. Then you got to say, “OK, where’s you outcomes?” You can listen to the hard part but then say, “OK. How many people do you really help? Did you really help those people? How much are you paying your people? Are you being a good steward of the money that I’m going to give to you because people lie all the time?”
[09:53] They’re aspirational about what they’re able to accomplish and they can’t really accomplish it.
Lizette: [10:01] You’ve mentioned some of the groups that maybe the cults, or the unique followers, or groups that standout, how did you come across? You’ve had a couple of doozies in the past couple of years. How do those come about where you get the idea? When do you know you’ve got a story, and when…How do you approach something so big that can cross multiple states, hundreds of people, or at least 50, 60 people?
Bob: [10:31] I went to the grocery store. This is what happened. I went to the grocery store, and the grocery store they had this…I’m going to tell you one. The cat cult, so I went to the grocery store.
[10:38] There was this trailer there. It was one of these pet adoptions things, and it’s called Eva’s Eden. It kind of had this creepy cat…
[10:44] Like, Egyptian’s thing on the thing. My daughter had gone to one of these. It’s like you go in, and play with the cats. We’re like, “No. We’re all allergic to cats.”
Bob: [10:52] I’m like, “That’s weird. What’s going on with that? That’s weird?” Then I had done a story on another group. There was a group here in town in Franklin that was very cult…Occultic personality. The pastor was very abusive, and it had been funded by a very well‑known Christian worship song. So I had written about that.
[11:14] Then on Facebook someone said, “Oh! I saw this thing about this cult, this Wayne Jolley cult. There’s another cult in Columbia, Tennessee,” and they had a page. “Is there a cult in Columbia, Tennessee?” I went, “Ooh! Is there a cult there?”
Bob: [11:27] They’re like, “It’s the cat people.” I’m like, “No! I know who they are.” You just go, “Hey! Would you want to talk to me about your experience,” and then you little by little, unfold what happened. Every group has angry ex‑members, so you have to make sure, “What is angry ex‑member?” but angry ex‑members often have collected all the sermon tapes.
Bob: [11:45] And the writings. So you unpack that. But it’s everywhere.
Scott: [11:51] Some of them get TV shows.
Bob: [11:52] Some of them get TV shows.
Bob: [11:54] Once you get into the business, people send…Like, Wayne Jolley, which is this group called The Gathering, which is funded by this worship song basically. Proceeds from that really built this cult. I’d known about them four or five years earlier. Somebody sent me some material, and then they didn’t want to talk. I was like, “Hmm. There’s something there, I don’t know what it is.”
[12:15] Then somebody called me out of the blue, said, “Hey! Do you know about Wayne Jolley?” I was like, “Yes I do.” “Would you tell me about him?” We did a story about a group here in town called Soles4Souls. They’re a shoe charity. They give away shoes, and they’re very reputable group now, did a lot of great work. But in their older days, they were doing some crooked things.
[12:34] Their first founder was…He was misleading the public. They would get these donated shoes. They give away free stock. They would get overstock shoes from companies. When they changed the model, they would get these free Nikes and stuff, give them away to little kids overseas. Great. Great idea. They would also collect all these used shoes, and they’d be like…I thought, “That’s terrible! Why would you…”
Bob: [13:00] He gets a brand new Michael Jordans, or I get my daughter’s worn out shoes. I would feel really terrible if I’m some kid, “I got no shoes. Look. He got Nikes, and I got these kind of things with a big hole in ’em.”
Bob: [13:14] They were basically selling all these shoes to finance the CEO’s…The used shoes to finance CEO’s extraordinary salary. They were using the donated shoes. They were valuing them really highly to boost their bottom line. They didn’t have much cash coming in, but it looked like they had a lot of cash coming in. They go, “Oh! We’re a 50 million dollar operation, and look. Here’s…So, I should be paid like a 50 million dollar operation…
Lizette: [13:40] Oh wow.
Bob: [13:41] instead of 3 million dollar operation.” Actually about a year after we did that, they put this…Right after we did it, they had a big campaign to tell us how terrible we were, and awful, and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Then a year later the new guy comes in, he goes, “Hey. Everything you said was right, and here’s how we fixed it all.”
Lizette: [13:56] Oh wow!
Bob: [13:57] Now they do great work. They really do nice…Do lots of good work.
Lizette: [14:00] What are some of the strategies you use to know that you’re getting the full story, you’re not running down one track? How do you approach that when you start with that hunch, or that first indication, but then you’re making sure you’re putting all the pieces together?
Bob: [14:19] There’s a writer named Studs Turkel. He was an oral historian. He did a book called, “Working,” is his most famous work. He’s got a Pulitzer Prize, he died, he’s kind of an old socialist, but in a radio voice. “Rawr! Rawr, rawr, rawr, rawr, rawr, rawr.”
Bob: [14:35] Which at his house did a…He did a story.
Bob: [14:35] He had a great story. He had a great book on what people believe in life…The end of life, and life after death. It’s called, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” It’s a great book. I got to interview him in his house, and he’s like an old…He’ll say like, “Hey! Would you like a martini? Oh wait! No! You work for a Christian publication, you. Here’s some apple juice. Here’s the best apple juice ever.”
Scott: [14:51] That was great.
Bob: [14:54] It was great because he had…He was like, “I’m an agnostic. That’s a lazy atheist, you know.”
Bob: [14:59] Then by his window he had this beautiful vase of flowers, and a little jar, an urn with his wife’s ashes, and he bought her…They’d been married for years, and he bought her new, fresh flowers every week, put them by there.
[15:14] He was like, [excited accent] “I don’t believe in that kind of stuff, the sad life after death, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” Then he had this really tender moment. Anyway, he talked about prospecting. You throw a bunch of stuff in a hopper, and you sift it out, and you get all the nuggets out.
[15:30] You have to put a lot of input in. You talk to everyone, and you kind of probe them. It’s just what happened, and then you find out more, and you go back, and ask them again. In this case, this one group I looked at, this Wayne Jolley group, they filed tax returns. They didn’t have to, but they had a crooked accountant who filed tax returns for them, because he was charging a lot of money for them. Then they reported all their money, which is great. We keep track of their money, but you keep…Look for documents you look for primary sources.
[16:04] You listen to a lot of sermons, you go and see, and you don’t presume that you know the answer. If you go, and you say, “I know this person is crooked. I’m going to prove they’re crooked,” you go and you say, “What is going on here?”
[16:17] Often what’s going on here is bigger. There’s a great story of…I know I can talk forever. There’s a great feature story called, “Old Man Peters,” and it was by a guy named Wilk Peters. He’s a retired librarian, won the first Pulitzer Prizes for feature writing.
[16:35] He was a church volunteer. Old African American man, retired librarian, got this prize for helping out travelers, because he spoke like six languages. In Baltimore, whenever somebody got in trouble at the airport, they’d called him, because he knew all these languages, Mr. Peters.
[16:51] Some news agency does a story about him, Wilk Peters. Great. Gets this award for being volunteer of the year. This featurette goes, “You know?” This is in the…Like, the 80s. This guy’s 70 years old, he grew up around the turn of the century, and is a son of a sharecropper in the South.
[17:17] How is he end up learning six languages? If you grow up in…I can’t remember if it’s Mississippi, Louisiana. If you’re from that area, and your dad was a sharecropper, you’re not exactly…That wasn’t a great place to get a lot of academic training.
Lizette: [17:32] Right.
Bob: [17:33] Turns out he had dropped out of school, and gone back to school in his 20s, gone back to grade school, and had this great life, and learning languages was the way for him to escape this very difficult past he had. This guy wrote a whole long story about all the twists, and turns of his life, and won the Pulitzer. He won the Pulitzer for writing about a church volunteer.
[17:51] The first person who wrote about him went in and said, “Oh, this is just a story about a volunteer. Nice little story. I’m only going to invest about an hour of time, and then I’m gone.” This other guy invested more time because he was more curious about, “Wait, why are you doing this? How did you end up here?” Because he was curious, he had to ask more questions, and he found treasure.
Lizette: [18:13] That’s great.
Scott: [18:14] These are some great principles, just for learning.
Lizette: [18:18] Right.
Scott: [18:18] I mean the fact that you’re always curious. You’re always skeptical. You’re always networking, talking with people, sifting through, as you said. That could be a nugget later. Let me remember that. Let me hang on to that. That cat might show up again.
Lizette: [18:36] Yes.
Scott: [18:38] A number of the examples you gave, kind of the exciting ones are when you caught somebody doing something wrong, but obviously you’ve written a lot on just how people’s faith is impacting their lives and how different faith movements have spread and the like. I think for ministry leaders, that learning component should be really helpful.
[19:03] Talk a little bit more about the communication end of being a journalist, being a writer. What are some of the things that make that communication compelling and really gets across the point you’re trying to make, and what you feel you’ve really discovered?
Bob: [19:20] One of the things is something’s got to be at stake. You have to figure out what is…So a great story has a compelling figure who overcomes some kind of obstacle and came out the other side. Somebody’s faced difficulty or challenges, or they saw a problem, they fixed it, some kind of narrative arc always helps.
[19:43] Then people just don’t know. There’re people who have great stories in every church. There’s people who overcome, come from very difficult backgrounds. They’re probably doing their work. They’re probably do world changing stuff. You never know anything about them. Or they have great testimonies and stories in their lives, but you find out when they call the newspaper they tell you about the bake sale. I remember…
Bob: [20:05] I remember there a guy in the…
Lizette: [20:08] That’s fantastic. .
Bob: [20:09] Out East I’m a big Red Sox fan. Out East there’s a charity called The Jimmy Fund, which benefits the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. Dr. Dana Farber, back in the early days, he always called every kid Jimmy. They had the kid on the radio named Jimmy with one of the baseball teams. They said, “Oh Jimmy, he’s got leukemia. We’re going to help him. We’ve got to give him money.” People gave him money.
[20:35] Then this first Jimmy disappeared. Nobody knew who he was. They thought that he died because everyone was dying of cancer back then. Turns out he had gone, gotten better. He was from New Sweden, Maine, up near the Canadian border. He’d been a truck driver in New Sweden, Maine, his whole life.
[20:51] Then a few years before he died, someone went and rediscovered him. They’re like, “Oh, wait.” Because his sister had seen the same story, saying, “Oh, the first Jimmy died.” “No, he’s not. He’s up in Maine.” He ended up coming down, meeting Ted Williams, and having this great time.
[21:06] I worked for a denominational magazine early in my career, and he went to the Evangelical Covenant Common Church, and he went to New Sweden Covenant Church. Did anyone in New Sweden Covenant Church happen to tell us about this guy? Not until he was dead.
Lizette: [21:21] Oh right.
Bob: [21:23] I wrote his obituary. For our magazine, we wrote a long obituary about him. I was like, “If somebody had just called us, we could have had this story.” But we didn’t because people, they would call us about the bake sale. We’ve got a bake sale. Someone who was missionary. Someone who discovered the cure for whatever. Someone who did all these great stories. We didn’t hear anything about it. You know the bake sale. We’ll tell you about the bake sale.
Lizette: [21:46] Do you think maybe sometimes in communities of a faith the reality in the ragged edges of a story, people are trying to avoid those, or is it just the lack of curiosity because folks just aren’t pursuing stories, that’s someone else’s job?
Bob: [22:03] I think some of the ragged edges of it…I think people don’t realize all the awesome things that have happened around them because they don’t think it’s important. Because it’s like, “It’s so‑and‑so, it’s Miss Susie, with her story.” They don’t think about, “Oh, that’s really pretty cool. Look at how this faith impacted someone’s life. We should tell this story.”
[22:23] I remember this one church. It did a great job. They got a writer to write everyone’s little…Or they collected first person autobiography stories of everyone in the church. They put a nice little booklet together. It was all these great stories, all these things, difficulties people had had, really amazing experiences they’ve had or diverse experiences they had. People grew up all over the world. They just put together a little book, and it was just amazing.
[22:53] People didn’t know because that’s just so…It’s so easy. We all get to church once a week or maybe twice, if you’re special like Lizette.
Scott: [23:03] That’s because she’s lost in there, did a drive‑by.
Bob: [23:07] You get an hour, but you meet someone. You go, “That’s the person.” This is Scott. He’s from Philadelphia. He’s very neat and tidy.
Lizette: [23:17] He’s neat and tidy.
Bob: [23:19] He does research. He probably does…Who know what he does in his whole life he’s been through? You don’t know because you only see him for a little bit. You’ve already got a picture of the box they’re in.
Lizette: [23:28] What would you do if you saw Scott wearing a pair of jeans with a hole in the knee?
Bob: [23:31] You’d go, “Who is that guy?”
Bob: [23:34] Maybe he was base jumping. Maybe he’s jumping off of buildings. He’s probably got all kinds of things that happened in his life. But you think of him in the box, “Oh, this is so‑and‑so. In this box we’ve known him for about a week. We don’t know each other very well.”
[23:48] Part of the thing is you need to know your congregation well. If I was the pastor, which I would not be because I’d be terrible at it.
Bob: [23:55] But if you were, you’d want to know people. What is your story because the best thing you can do is listen to people. That’s the best gift you can give to anybody is to listen to their story and say, “You really matter. Tell us about you experience.” Because most people think their experiences, because it’s just them, it’s like, “Nah, I just went through that.”
Lizette: [24:12] We’re going to have to wrap up, but I want to ask one final question. We’ve definitely got other questions we could talk to about. So we will have to do this again. One of the things that I’ve heard described about you is that you do give a fair treatment when you’re doing stories.
[24:50] One of the things I’ve heard said about you is that you don’t always reveal all the gotchas that you could in a story when you’re writing. You may be revealing some things that are difficult or challenging, whether it’s for a cult or just for someone in a denominational ministry, a church, a pastor.
[25:17] Why is it in a world of journalism that sensationalism is very exciting? If you know that you have something and you have these facts, why do you hold back on some gotchas?
Bob: [25:29] One, because I’ve really got too many of them. Then, why pile on people and grind them? I know people that just like to grind people into the dust. They take down some pastor. Then he loses his church. Then they follow him around. It’s like, so‑and‑so they asked him to speak somewhere, always grind him down. What’s the point?
[25:50] I’m not trying to win anything. I’m trying to help people. What you do as a journalist, you try to hold up a mirror and let’s see the world. Let people see themselves. You want them to see themselves. Sometimes, people say something, they say something awkward, or they say something that comes across wrong. They might say that, right?
Lizette: [26:09] Right.
Bob: [26:09] We’ve had that recently in news. Someone says something kind of awkward.
Lizette: [26:16] I think we’ve had that a lot in the news.
Bob: [26:17] Yes. Do you go and say, “Oh, see this means,” or you go after the person and say, “Did you really mean this?” If they say, “Yes, let me tell you about it.” Awesome. If you don’t, then why should you…
Lizette: [26:32] You mean, awesome, not because they think crazy thoughts but because they’re verifying…
Bob: [26:35] They’re verifying what you said is true because people, they’re human and especially not if you’re a cult leader and you’re stealing people’s money, then we’re going to report that, but they’re still a human being. You want to treat people with…Plus, people can only take so much. That’s the hard part of life.
[26:52] Whether you’re talking about an investigation or data from a research, people only have so much bandwidth. You have to say, “OK, when it boils down to it, this, this, and this,” because they can get that. It’s these 15 things.
[27:08] Say, you’re writing a letter to the editor, you want to complain about something. If you write the 15 things that that person was terrible about whatever, no one is going to listen to you. You say, “Hey, here’s my main point. This is going on.” Then the other part is, you want to have some kind of common decency.
[27:26] You could ruin people for a few clicks. There’s always somebody else that’s going to do something terrible, I can get a few clicks off that.
Bob: [27:35] That sounds terrible. Plus, you have to know what’s a good story. How do you tell a good story? I’ll tell you one last story. I got this column one day, and my friend, Chad Sisk at the local radio station. “This guy called you, and you should call him back. He has a story, about six, six, six, and his job, but you should call him.”
[27:58] I call him, he goes, “Hello, you’re a religion man.” He said in his Russian accent, “Oh, I must talk to you.” He had this story. He kept getting six, six, six. He was a Pentecostal Russian immigrant. On his badge, on his W‑2 form, on his time clock…
Bob: [28:20] He’s like, “I can’t do this. This is like…” He goes to his boss, he’s like, “I can’t have six, six, six because…” He had this deep Russian accent. He’s bald. He’s just great. The minute I talk to him, this is a great story. Then I was like…I called the company, “Hey, you keep giving him six, six, six.” No, he didn’t. Then the guy calls me back. He says, “Oh, wait. When I said no we didn’t, I meant yes, we did and we don’t know why we keep doing it?”
[28:39] That was like, OK. I got this guy on video, and I got him telling his story. People read that. It’s been in the Ukraine, India, and all over Africa. Everyone in the world’s read this story. What was great was to say, OK, how do you say somebody that sounds a little extreme and explain what was it about this principle?
[29:04] This is a belief. He kept getting it, and he couldn’t stay because he felt he was betraying God. To treat him fairly, while also saying, “This is a little bit of sensationalism in this story.” It’s kind of cool and awesome. You’ll read this because it’s really interesting because what he speaks is really interesting. Religion is weird, right?
[29:23] Every bit of religion is weird. This is one thing that churches don’t get. If I tell you, you should fallow….this Bible is really true. We really know because this bush told this guy to go rescue his people. It was on fire, some bush in the desert. I’m going to rescue my people and we had Exodus.
[29:43] You’d go, “A bush told you to do that.” But that’s weird, right? We think we read in the Bible, “Oh, OK. This is part of God’s story,” and it feels normal to us. Those kinds of things that feel normal to us are people not raised in our faith don’t feel normal about it.
“[30:02] God spoke to me.” You say, “God spoke to me.” How did that happen, and usually we say if you hear voices, something’s wrong with you. I think we have to realize how weird our own religion is and how it doesn’t always make sense to other people. If people don’t understanding us, maybe it’s they just don’t understand, not that they’re hostile to you.
[30:21] Maybe they just don’t understand what you mean when you say that because all those words…When I say, “God told me to do this,” I mean a whole bunch of things. I doesn’t feel this is God’s will. I was reading the Bible, I prayed about it. Most of the time, for me at least, God does not say, “Bob.”
Bob: [30:40] Dear Bob, today go do this thing. Go work for Facts & Trends magazine. It may become a religion.
Lizette: [30:45] But you have gotten a song called “Dear Bob.”
Bob: [30:48] I do have a song, I do have a song.
Lizette: [30:49] But we can’t divulge any of that.
Bob: [30:51] No, we can’t divulge anything. But, I would say I love what you guys do, and the data…The data part of this, you asked about the data before?
Lizette: [30:59] We’ll do that as another one.
Bob: [31:01] We’ll talk about it later, so come back. This is a wicked awesome podcast. You should really listen and tell all your friends because it’s so much fun. Just between you and me, it’s awesome.
Lizette: [31:12] All right, so Bob, how can people find you on twitter?
Bob: [31:14] @bobsmietana
Lizette: [31:14] You want to spell your last name for…?
Bob: [31:18] S‑M‑I‑E‑T‑A‑N‑A.
Lizette: [31:21] Following Bob on Twitter, it’s like an encyclopedia of knowing what’s going on in religion and faith and it’s also just a window into some random retweets. Bob has set the tone for “retweet does not equal endorsement.” There’s no way you could pin him down to that because he just takes you on a wild ride but of an informative…Scott, you said that’s one way that you get a lot of your information.
Scott: [31:50] It’s almost a clipping service, but Bob does a great job of finding cultural and religion things and, yes, Boston sports.
Bob: [31:57] And the lady today who swims under the ice without an air thing. Did you see those photos?
Lizette: [32:03] No.
Bob: [32:03] She breaks a hole in the ice and swims in freezing water in Finland and they take pictures of her. It’s beautiful pictures. It was cool but I’m like, “That’s crazy!” she’s like, [camera shutter sounds] , but am I supposed to [indecipherable] under there? Some guy’s down there, apparently, taking photos like [camera shutter sounds]. It was gorgeous, you should go see it.
Lizette: [32:25] Real quick before we wrap up, Bob, how are you doing since Peyton Manning’s retirement? I know you took that pretty hard.
Bob: [32:32] Who? Did you know that the Patriots…We were talking about this earlier. It’s less than one percent. The patriots had less than one percent chance of winning the Super Bowl. Five Super Bowls. How many times has Peyton been to the Super Bowl? Four! How many did he win? Twice, and once he won because Rex Grossman was playing the opposite quarterback. I mean, come on, people love…Peyton Manning! Naaah. Tom Brady, greatest quarterback ever. Five wins. Ain’t nobody got him.
Lizette: [33:03] Next time, we’ll talk a little bit about the excellent job in researching the NFL did in Deflategate and how they went and fully researched that. I can’t believe I didn’t even get a reaction there. All right.
Bob: [33:17] Yes, they did. That was awesome. They found out that it gets cold, the balls get smaller.
Lizette: [33:24] All right, thanks for listening. You can contact us at @smcconn and @lizettebeard, and we hope to catch you next time on “Keep Asking.”
- Wayne Jolly Dies as Dozens Leave the Gathering Christianity Today
- Writing for Story by Jonathan Franklin
- “The Ballad of Old Man Peters” link to pdf
Bob Smietana is senior writer at Facts and Trends magazine. He previously served as the religion reporter at The Tennessean and is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in USA Today, The Washington Post, and Christianity Today.