Black belt readership
Laboring together in humility and love
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My son Jake trains in the combat sport of Muay Thai eight to 10 times a week. The national sport of Thailand, Muay Thai dates back to military use in about the 13th century. It’s a “striking sport” that uses fists, elbows, kicks, and knees. He tells me it would be better for me as a mom if I don’t come to see one of his fights. (Insert wide-eyed alarm emoji here.)
Jake is well on his way to his first amateur fight, but only recently added jiu-jitsu to his repertoire. A ground-based martial art, jiu-jitsu is a gentler sport that employs pressure, leverage, and timing as a means of “submitting” opponents. Jake’s jiu-jitsu instructor—or “professor,” to use the proper black belt honorific—is of sterling lineage. This is the way it’s done in the Gracie-Barra school of Brazilian jiu-jitsu: It’s not just your skill level that’s important, but also who trained you—and who trained that person, and even who came before that.
In late August, Jake earned a third stripe on his white belt. It was a great honor to be promoted by his particular professor, whose lineage includes Carlos Gracie Jr. himself. But what interested me even more was this: In gyms where the Gracie-Barra ethos is followed seriously, a student, once promoted, must then immediately grapple with students who are one and two belts higher.
“How did you do?” I asked Jake when he told me about it.
“I got rag-dolled,” he said, chuckling. The blue and purple belts, with appropriate grace and good humor, submitted Jake again and again.
So: a promotion followed immediately with a dose of humility-by-design. Seems perfectly tuned to our sin natures, doesn’t it?
Like Jake, I recently got a promotion, too. I started at WORLD when we were a scrappy, upstart publication, arriving in 1998, just four years into professor Marvin Olasky’s editorship, which would last a quarter-century. Marvin dared to think about journalism Biblically and taught me to do likewise. It’s a lineage for which I am profoundly grateful.
In 2009, I headed off to write books for a while then returned in 2020 to head up Lawless, a WORLD Radio true-crime podcast. Then, earlier this year, I was invited to step in as executive editor of this magazine.
It was an incredible honor … followed by an immediate dose of humility as the higher belts weighed in: WORLD reader Teresa Russell of Knoxville, Tenn., for example.
“I am a huge fan of your mission and have been a reader for about two years,” Teresa wrote in a Sept. 1 letter to the editor. “For this month’s issue, I understand the decision to include photos of the war in Ukraine. It is important for people to know what is happening and to initiate calls for action.”
Teresa then kindly expressed her concern over the inclusion of so many graphic photos, noting that many readers, including kids, likely found them disturbing.
“I would ask for greater discretion next time,” Teresa wrote. “Thank you for what you do.”
Thank you, Teresa—that’s wise counsel. Also, in my book, you are a black belt in the art of agreeable disagreement.
Since debuting the redesigned magazine, we’ve received other higher-belt counsel from readers. For example, a few disliked our Aug. 27 cover, which depicted a man’s gender confusion. But other readers loved the cover—one even called it a work of art that deserves an award.
Whether positive or negative, we receive all of your feedback in the spirit of Paul’s instruction to the believers at Thessalonica: “Respect those who labor among you … and admonish you, and … esteem them very highly in love because of their work.”
I am grateful to labor with and among you, the body of Christ, undivided, honoring one another as we press forward toward the prize.
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