My Take: Jesus was a dirty, dirty God
January 5th, 2013
10:00 PM ET

My Take: Jesus was a dirty, dirty God

Editor’s note: Johnnie Moore is the author of Dirty God (#DirtyGod). He is a professor of religion and vice president at Liberty University. Keep track of him @johnnieM .

By Johnnie Moore, Special to CNN

(CNN) - Jesus was a lot more like you than you think, and a lot less clean cut than this iconic image of him that floats around culture.

You know the image. It’s the one where Jesus is walking like he’s floating in robes of pristine white followed by birds singing some holy little ditty. He’s polished, manicured, and clearly – God.

But despite the Christian belief that Jesus was both fully God and fully man, Jesus was a rather dirty God.

He was the “earthly” son of a carpenter, and life in the first-century was both more lurid and unfinished than our collective religious memory seems to recall.

To that end, I suggested recently to several astounded colleagues of mine that Jesus actually had to go to the bathroom, perhaps even on the side of the road between Capernaum and Jerusalem.

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What tipped them over the edge was when I insinuated that Jesus, like almost every other human being living in the rural world in that time, might have even had dysentery on an occasion or two.

Someone said, “You mean that Jesus might have had severe diarrhea?”

“Yep,” I replied, “That’s exactly what I mean.”

It seems like an obvious statement if you believe that Jesus was “fully God” and “fully man” (as most evangelicals believe and call the Incarnation), but to some of us it seems in the least, inappropriate, and at the most, sacrilege, to imagine Jesus in this way. We might believe that God was also man, but we picture him with an ever-present halo over his head.

But, actually, the Jesus of the Bible was more human than most people are conditioned to think.

I call this the dirty side of Jesus. He was grittier, and a lot more like us than maybe we believe, and that’s one of the reasons why so many thousands of people followed him so quickly.

They could relate to him.

He was the teacher from a small town who knew and understood the economic insecurity that was common in the first century. Times must have been rather tough for Jesus at points in his life, for he even spoke of being homeless, having to sleep on the ground with no roof over his head.

He also knew what it was like to have his message rejected and how it felt to be misunderstood. Jesus was regarded with such little significance in his hometown that one of his critics once remarked sardonically, “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?” Jesus eventually had to move to different city (Capernaum) because his teachings so infuriated the people living in his hometown that they drove him out of Nazareth and even tried to throw him off a cliff.

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The real Jesus had dirt underneath his fingernails and calluses on his hands. He probably smelled badly from sweating profusely in the Judean sun on his long hikes to Jerusalem, and Jesus was, without a doubt, rumored to be a hypocrite or absolutely mad for all the time he spent with prostitutes and those afflicted with leprosy.

Not exactly have a clean-cut image.

He had a rather shady reputation.

Some people thought he was a revolutionary. The religious leaders called him a heretic, and others even accused him of being a drunkard and a glutton - in no small part because of the vagabond group of disciples he had with him. No serious religious leader of his day would have ever recruited such people.

For his core 12 disciples, Jesus included a tough-as-nails, bombastic fisherman (Peter), a chief tax collector named Matthew (the most hated popular figure of the time), an eventual traitor who was stealing money out of the offering bucket (Judas), a prolific doubter (Thomas), two jocks nicknamed the “Sons of Thunder” (James and John) and Simon the Zealot, a member of a radical political party which believed in using violence to kick out the Romans.

Jesus was sarcastic, too.

He often snapped back at the Pharisees with a tone fit for late-night television, and in a terribly embarrassing moment for all those around him, Jesus even called these respected religious teachers “snakes” that were probably sons of “Satan.”

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That’s not exactly the behavior of a sweet, self-help teacher with a halo over his head.

It’s the behavior of a frustrated man who might also be divine, but sure knows how it feels for annoying people to get under his skin.

Christians believe that Jesus chose to be born fully human, too, but why?

Lots of theologians have laid out opinions over the centuries, and in their opining they have tried once again to hijack Jesus’ humanity by defining it in philosophical terms. I believe it’s simpler than the philosophy and church councils and centuries of argument.

The brilliance of Christianity is the image of a God, named Jesus, arrived with dirty hands.

Jesus came in a time period when Greco-Roman gods were housed in gigantic temples and portrayed with superhuman powers and with superhuman physiques. Gods were believed to be far away from people on their mountains or hemmed up in their sanctuaries.

Jesus arrived in defiance of this prevailing imagery.

Jesus didn’t come flinging lightning bolts from a mountaintop, or playing politics in Rome. He came to live in a typical Middle Eastern village called Nazareth that was home to a couple hundred typical people. He didn’t decide to brandish his power, but to spend most of his time with the powerless and disenfranchised. And when he started a religious movement that reshaped history, he did it in the most profound and anticlimatic way:

He let himself be killed, and then he busted open a tomb.

In Jesus we meet a Savior who understood the desire to sleep just a few more hours, and who had to control his temper sometimes. In Jesus we find a God we can relate to because he chose to relate to us.

He was the God who became dirty so that the world’s souls might be made clean.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Johnnie Moore.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Jesus

soundoff (7,741 Responses)
  1. ohoyotohbi

    Good piece.

    January 6, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
  2. Colin

    Christianity is the belief that an infinitely-old, all-knowing being, powerful enough to create the entire Universe and its billions of galaxies about 13,720,000,000 years ago, impregnated an Iron Age Jewish virgin with himself, so he could give birth to himself, then sacrifice himself to himself to forgive the “original sin” of a couple we now all know never existed.

    Atheism is the belief that the above belief is completely fvcking ludicrous.

    January 6, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
    • inspiration

      Good one! LOL!

      January 6, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
    • dreamer96

      And Atheist Scientist believe man evolved from low life forms....So what will man evolve into if this evolution continues....Man will eventually give way to the next level of intelligent being on Earth....like our ancestor did to modern man,......are we just a link in the chain of evolution that ends with the creation of a super intelligent being that can create a whole universe...Hmm and right now we believe the Universe is billions of years old...what if we are not alone as intelligent life forms in this universe..and there are many others out there..and some so much more advanced they would have ability that we would call God Like....What then if we were visited by them??

      January 6, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
    • JWT

      No matter how powerful they are they would not be gods.

      January 6, 2013 at 12:17 pm |
  3. Alan

    Wow, how devoid of any real content! What fluff! Why didn't you use your pulpit to give some reference to the gospels, or Paul? Why not give some actual context of Jesus on the move constantly, in fear of the authorities? Also, your grammar isn't great! Empty words are why Christianity is under constant attack!

    January 6, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
    • inspiration

      Don't expect any miracles from a gay man!

      January 6, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
  4. Big John

    Its interesting to see how the media and atheists can speak about God and Jesus, but if we speak about
    the prophet Mohammed. I am willing to bet that this article would not last 1 day…. Mmmmmmm

    January 6, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
  5. Robert Brown

    Some say the stories in the bible are unbelievable and some are proven false by science. Specifically, the ones that really bother most folks are the creation and the flood. So, you can believe some force or deity can start the ball rolling, so to speak, but our understanding doesn’t line up with a literal 7 day creation? Ok, fair enough, what if the whole creation story is a parable or allegory? Some would say well that could be ok, except, the sun was created after plants in genesis. I have noticed that as well, but if you want to just find what you consider a problem then give up and quit, why bother questioning in the first place?

    Here are some things to consider on the plants appearing before the sun. First, is the obvious one “let there be light.” Next, and from there on, after each day in the story, it says,” and the evening and the morning were” and then whatever day it was. Finally, when plants first emerged it is suggested that the earth’s atmosphere was cloudy and foggy until the plants grew long enough to clear some of the CO2. So, if you look at it from an earthly perspective, while light could be perceived during the day and lesser light at night the sun moon and stars weren’t clearly visible until the atmosphere cleared.

    You know God communicated with several people in the bible using dreams and visions. Suppose he gave Moses a vision or dream about creation to write down, it would be like a slide show, the first frame darkness, then light, water, land, plants, the sun, moon, stars, fish, birds, animals, people. If you were sitting on earth watching it unfold in super-fast forward it could have appeared just like that.

    The key to creation if you can accept a power, force, or deity had some hand in it, is Genesis 1:1” In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” If you can then accept that what follows is a parable given to Moses by God, it would seem to me that it would be reasonable that it is a very simple story that a man who lived in ancient times could understand and accept. It follows at least to some degrees the steps of the development of life on earth, as we think they occurred. If you view chapter 1 in that context it could alleviate some of your objections to that part of the creation narrative.

    If you could accept the first chapter of genesis is a parable or allegory, or not, then let’s proceed to the Garden of Eden. Regardless of how you believe humans developed, at some point, you get to what we today understand as humans, a very distinct, intelligent, self-conscious, thoughtful, species when compared to all related species.

    If you view the garden of Eden and Adam and Eve as a parable about an example pair of the first humans to obtain awareness and their interaction with this creative force and their development of an understanding of right (righteousness, thought and behavior God approves of, thought and behavior that humans esteem) and wrong (sin, behavior God hates, or the human guilt complex if you like).

    In the parable we have this transition from being unaware or being just happy go lucky smart animals, to awareness, something, somehow, removed from the animal kingdom. So, regardless of how you feel that developed, it is presented in an instantaneous realization brought about by eating the fruit from the forbidden tree. The fruit and the tree represent this awareness or knowledge.

    Was the sin taking and eating from the tree, developing the awareness or knowledge, that first lie they told God, or the desire to know more, which could be akin to pride?

    A side note here ladies, if you look at it from this context, women developed superior intelligence first, then gave it to, or taught men.

    If you go along those lines of thought you have to deal with the serpent. Could this serpent introduced into the story be the desire for knowledge? Why would it, this desire, be considered a bad thing by the creator, innocence lost?

    “And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.”

    “And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.”

    As parents, do we not endeavor to protect the innocence of our children, and as children don’t we desire to be a grown up? It could be that the serpent is the desire or pride, a separation or a want to go in a direction contrary to the will of the creator, innocence lost.

    Some say the old testament God was just too mean and is not worthy of worship. Why would he create humans knowing they were going to rebel and then kill them wholesale? There are several examples in the bible, the most extreme is the flood.

    It is not believed because we do not see evidence of a worldwide flood and if there was one, the God who did it could not be a good God worthy of worship. Not only that, but the idea that humans and animals developed to some point then were all but eliminated from the earth just does not line up with what we think we know of the history of the earth, at least as far as timing.

    First, let’s look at what we do know, there are in modern times examples of huge catastrophic floods. There is evidence from ancient times of floods. Now, could Noah’s flood have been a local or regional flood? Could one family have built a boat similar to the dimensions recorded in the bible? Would a boat of this size be adequate to hold a family, their livestock, a collection of local wild animals, and all the food and water the group would need to survive for a long time? If you can accept that all this is possible, then the story, parable, or allegory also seems to be a reasonable possibility.

    Would a God who would destroy a bunch of extremely mean people and preserve some good ones still be unworthy of worship? If so, then what would be the lesson or message of such a parable? It seems very simple to me, God is demonstrating his intention to create, allow people the opportunity to choose good or bad, allow the ones who have chosen evil to change their minds, and then ultimately, eliminate evil and preserve good. What could possibly be wrong with that?

    January 6, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
    • Colin

      A few reasons why the Bible cannot possibly be correct on the creation of the Earth and rest of the Universe.

      First and most obviously is the fossil record. The fossil record is much, much more than just dinosaurs. Indeed, dinosaurs only get the press because of their size, but they make up less than 1% of the entire fossil record. Life had been evolving on Earth for over 3 thousand million years before dinosaurs evolved and has gone on evolving for 65 million years after the Chicxulub meteor likely wiped them out.

      The fossil record includes the Stromatolites, colonies of prokaryotic bacteria, that range in age going back to about 3 billion years, the Ediacara fossils from South Australia, widely regarded as among the earliest multi-celled organisms, the Cambrian species of the Burgess shale in Canada (circa – 450 million years ago) the giant scorpions of the Silurian Period, the giant, wingless insects of the Devonian period, the insects, amphibians, reptiles, fishes, clams, crustaceans of the Carboniferous Period, the many precursors to the dinosaurs, the 700 odd known species of dinosaurs themselves, the subsequent dominant mammals, including the saber tooth tiger, the mammoths and hairy rhinoceros of North America and Asia, the fossils of early man in Africa and the Neanderthals of Europe.

      The fossil record shows a consistent and worldwide evolution of life on Earth dating back to about 3,500,000,000 years ago. There are literally millions of fossils that have been recovered, of thousands of different species and they are all located where they would be in the geological record if life evolved slowly over billions of years. None of them can be explained by a 6,000 year old Earth and Noah’s flood. Were they all on the ark? What happened to them when it docked?

      A Tyrannosaurus Rex ate a lot of food – meat- which means its food would itself have to have been fed, like the food of every other carnivore on the ark for the entire 360 odd days Noah supposedly spent on the ark. T-Rex was not even the largest carnivorous dinosaur we know of. Spinosaurus, Argentinosaurus and Carcharodontosaurus were all larger and ate more even meat. Even they were not large enough to bring down the largest sauropods we know of, many species of which weighed in at close to 100 tons and were about 100 feet long. A bit of “back of the envelope” math quickly shows that “Noah’s Ark” would actually have to have been an armada of ships larger than the D-Day invasion force, manned by thousands and thousands of people – and this is without including the World’s 300,000 current species of plants, none of which could walk merrily in twos onto the ark.

      Then, of course, there are the various races of human beings. There were no Sub-Saharan Africans, Chinese, Australian Aboriginals, blonde haired Scandinavians, Pygmies or Eskimos on the Ark. Where did they come from?

      Second, there are those little things we call oil, natural gas and other fossil fuels. Their mere existence is another independent and fatal blow to the creationists. Speak to any geologist who works for Exxon Mobil, Shell or any of the thousands of mining, oil or natural gas related companies that make a living finding fossil fuels. They will tell you these fossil fuels take millions of years to develop from the remains of large, often Carboniferous Period forests, in the case of coal, or tiny marine creatures in the case of oil. For the fossils to develop into oil or coal takes tens or hundreds of millions of years of “slow baking” under optimum geological conditions. That’s why they are called “fossil fuels.” Have a close look at coal, you can often see the fossilized leaves in it. The geologists know exactly what rocks to look for fossil fuels in, because they know how to date the rocks to tens or hundreds of millions of years ago. Creationists have no credible explanation for this.

      Third, most of astronomy and cosmology would be wrong if the creationists were right. In short, as Einstein showed, light travels at a set speed. Space is so large that light from distant stars takes many years to reach the Earth. In some cases, this is millions or billions of years. The fact that we can see light from such far away stars means it began its journey billions of years ago. The Universe must be billions of years old. We can currently see galaxies whose light left home 13, 700,000,000 years ago. Indeed, on a clear night, one can see the collective, misty light of many stars more than 6,000 light years away with the naked eye, shining down like tiny accusatorial witnesses against the nonsense of creationism.

      Fourth, we have not just carbon dating, but also all other methods used by scientists to date wood, rocks, fossils, and other artifacts. These comprehensively disprove the Bible’s claims. They include uranium-lead dating, potassium-argon dating as well as other non-radioactive methods such as pollen dating, dendrochronology and ice core dating. In order for any particular rock, fossil or other artifact to be aged, generally two or more samples are dated independently by two or more laboratories in order to ensure an accurate result. If results were random, as creationists claim, the two independent results would rarely agree. They generally do. They regularly reveal ages much older than Genesis. Indeed, the Earth is about 750,000 times older than the Bible claims, the Universe about three times the age of the Earth.

      Fifth, the relatively new field of DNA mapping not only convicts criminals, it shows in undeniable, full detail how we differ from other life forms on the planet. For example, about 98.4% of human DNA is identical to that of chimpanzees, about 97% of human DNA is identical to that of gorillas, and slightly less again of human DNA is identical to the DNA of monkeys. This gradual divergence in DNA can only be rationally explained by the two species diverging from a common ancestor, and coincides perfectly with the fossil record. Indeed, scientists can use the percentage of DNA that two animal share (such as humans and bears, or domestic dogs and wolves) to get an idea of how long ago the last common ancestor of both species lived. It perfectly corroborates the fossil record and is completely independently developed.

      Sixth, the entire field of historical linguistics would have to be rewritten to accommodate the Bible. This discipline studies how languages develop and diverge over time. For example, Spanish and Italian are very similar and have a recent common “ancestor” language, Latin, as most people know. However, Russian is quite different and therefore either did not share a common root, or branched off much earlier in time. No respected linguist anywhere in the World traces languages back to the Tower of Babel, the creationists’ simplistic and patently absurd explanation for different languages. Indeed, American Indians, Australian Aboriginals, “true” Indians, Chinese, Mongols, Ja.panese, Sub-Saharan Africans and the Celts and other tribes of ancient Europe were speaking thousands of different languages thousands of years before the date creationist say the Tower of Babel occurred – and even well before the date they claim for the Garden of Eden.

      Seventh, lactose intolerance is also a clear vestige of human evolution. Most mammals only consume milk as infants. After infancy, they no longer produce the enzyme “lactase” that digests the lactose in milk and so become lactose intolerant. Humans are an exception and can drink milk as adults – but not all humans – some humans remain lactose intolerant. So which humans are no longer lactose intolerant? The answer is those who evolved over the past few thousand years raising cows. They evolved slightly to keep producing lactase as adults so as to allow the consumption of milk as adults. This includes most Europeans and some Africans, notably the Tutsi of Rwanda. On the other hand, most Chinese, native Americans and Aboriginal Australians, whose ancestors did not raise cattle, remain lactose intolerant.

      I could go on and elaborate on a number of other disciplines or facts that creationists have to pretend into oblivion to retain their faith, including the Ice Ages, cavemen and early hominids, much of microbiology, paleontology and archeology, continental drift and plate tectonics. Even large parts of medical research would be rendered unusable but for the fact that monkeys and mice share a common ancestor with us and therefore our fundamental cell biology and basic body architecture is identical to theirs.

      In short, and not surprisingly, the World’s most gifted evolutionary biologists, astronomers, cosmologists, geologists, archeologists, paleontologists, historians, modern medical researchers and linguists (and about 2,000 years of accu.mulated knowledge) are right and a handful of Iron Age Middle Eastern goat herders copying then extant mythology were wrong. Creationists aren’t just trying to swim upstream against the weight of scientific evidence; they are trying to ascend a waterfall.

      January 6, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
    • Luis Wu

      How utterly stupid.

      January 6, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
    • dreamer96


      Actually we have found many places around the Middle East were there were large sudden floods..which could be the source of the story...and the Earth has proof of great Ice Ages and the melting of these large deposits of glacier Ice often created earth dams...that eventually broke, causing large floods...and I believe all of Earth's major religions do have a story about a great flood in the Earth's history....So why pick on the Bible's flood story...

      January 6, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
    • hal 9001

      I'm sorry, "Robert Brown", but "God", "Moses", "Eden", "Adam and Eve", and "Noah" are all elements of mythology with no credible evidence to support their existence. Using my Idiomatic Expression Equivalency module (IEE), the expression that best matches the degree to which your assertions may represent truths is: "TOTAL FAIL".

      January 6, 2013 at 12:06 pm |
    • dreamer96


      Did you not hear...Noah had to leave his pet Dinosaur off the Ark...He kept eating the Sheep.....

      January 6, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
  6. dreamer96


    So what did a Jesus Fart smell like????....and did the people around him wave their hands and complain to Jesus ..Whoa Jesus give us some warning next time you are going to do that...or Take it out side next time Jesus....Did Jesus Laugh at his followers after the really smelly ones?...If you want to be one of my followers, your better get use to that smell....It is a guy thing....

    January 6, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
    • Luis Wu

      Would a Jesus turd be holy sh!t?

      January 6, 2013 at 12:06 pm |
    • dreamer96

      They were probably collected, and sold to his followers...

      January 6, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
  7. inspiration

    Did Jesus ever showered?

    January 6, 2013 at 11:59 am |
  8. sjenner

    Jesus was earthy and very human. That especially comes across in the Gospel of Mark. (See, Mark:7.) I don't know why this would be controversial? Yet we always seem uncomfortable with the body. And not just as it may apply to Jesus, but to us as well. How many truly accept that we're the fusion of body and spirit? As Jesus showed, the resurrection is of the body and its unification with the spirit. I agree with Moore. It's time to put the Man back in God.

    January 6, 2013 at 11:58 am |
    • End Religion

      it is controversial because the bible is complete fiction. Jesus never existed at all and was likely concocted by Josephus Flavius.

      January 6, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
  9. tony

    This sounds like the modern version of scholarly "analysis" of how many angels fit on the head of a pin. Even the pope has calculated there were no animals at jesus' birth.

    All to make the fantasy sound more "credible".

    January 6, 2013 at 11:58 am |
  10. inspiration

    This article gives a tremendous insight to the expression "holy sh...!"

    January 6, 2013 at 11:58 am |
    • Mick

      You beat me to it.

      January 6, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
  11. ??????????

    The g factor is always in control (Greed)

    January 6, 2013 at 11:57 am |
  12. yosemite sam


    January 6, 2013 at 11:57 am |
    • Chelsea


      I wonder if you've ever read this. I think that you need to do more reading on the actual arguments presented by philosophers over the years. Who are these evangelicals you are "arguing" with? People whom you know personally? Try reading Alvin Plantinga too. And I'm curious: how would you argue against Anselm of Canterburry's Ontological Argument?

      January 6, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
  13. Dasea

    sounds to me these jesus from nazareth had halos around his mouth and bum hole tooooo

    January 6, 2013 at 11:57 am |
  14. yosemite sam


    January 6, 2013 at 11:56 am |
  15. yosemite sam


    January 6, 2013 at 11:56 am |
  16. Atheist

    It's so funny when people try to apply logical explanations for for what Jesus looked liked, whether he was married or not, etc... But they completely ignore the fact that there is no corroborating historical evidence anywhere to suggest that he was a real person. If he was so important and influential in his lifetime, then one of his piers would have written something about him, but there's nothing. Not one shred of evidence. In fact there's more credible evidence to suggest that the whole story was made up by Josephus Flavius.

    January 6, 2013 at 11:55 am |
    • Rick

      have you ever met Lincoln or Washington? How do you know they exist? You read about them didn't you? So what makes you so sure Jesus didn't exist? There is evidents that he DID exist just like anyone else in history. Just because some one you don't believe in is written about, doesn't mean he/she wasn't there. There are millions of people throughout history that existed that you never saw or met that were not written about, what about them?

      January 6, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
    • *ray

      Isaiah 53:2 He had no beauty or majesty about him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. Isaiah 53:8 By oppression and judgement he was taken away. And who can speak of his defendants?

      January 6, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
  17. yosemite sam


    January 6, 2013 at 11:55 am |
  18. BelladonnaCove

    When Jesus was on earth, the Bible said he was clean and didn't sin ; also, everybody liked him - he was a popular figure in his times - like Billy Graham or Ira Sankey (a popular religious guru and poet).

    January 6, 2013 at 11:54 am |
    • End Religion

      if jesus were like any religious leader of the last generation it would definitely be Ted Haggard.

      January 6, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
    • Literal

      They executed Billy Graham?

      January 6, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
  19. yosemite sam


    January 6, 2013 at 11:54 am |
  20. yosemite sam


    January 6, 2013 at 11:54 am |
    • Actually

      I'll pray for you and for the lives in which you have influence over

      January 6, 2013 at 12:17 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.