This morning, while crawling through morning traffic, I decided to put myself through an experiment. Commutes are usually reserved for podcasts, but today I opted for the news. I gave myself only one rule: regardless how uncomfortable, I would listen to either local or national news until I reached my destination, a local coffee shop about 25 minutes from the house.
I now understand why road rage exists.
I stepped out of my car at the coffee thinking the government is in shambles, the current President sucks at running the country, the President-elect will suck at running the country, and my next door neighbor is most likely a terrorist.
Now, I’m all for democracy. But you must see the negativity bias (a collective desire to hear, portray and remember bad news) in play here.
But, honestly, what’s a red-and-blue blooded American to do? The news is 24/7, making it almost impossible to avoid. I could ask you to sell your stuff, buy a horse and join an Amish community. But, for most of us, that ship left the port long ago. And, if I’m keeping it real, I’m not sure it’s the most effective strategy for Christians.
Jesus valued the marketplace, after all. Most of Jesus’ public appearances and parables focused on the agora, the marketplace. The marketplace was the societal center, the place where life happened.
The challenge for Christians is to engage culture without losing hope. You see, hope erases fear and anxiety. And followers of Jesus should be on the front lines of culture, waving the banner of hope because news stories don’t shape our reality. Jesus does. The latest round of bad news should never imprison us. Hope is not about what you see, but how you see.
Here are a few thoughts on engaging the news without losing hope.
You’re the curator of the news you consume.
I heard a pastor go into detail about this point. He challenges people to take back control, to decide what’s news rather than allowing a few suit-and-ties to decide it for you. His mantra is “Breaking News…I’ll decide.” That’s brilliant.
Here’s the point. Every day, CNN, Fox News, msNBC, and your local news station must deliver stories. Just because someone leads with a story doesn’t mean it’s newsworthy. You need to take back the curator role. A group of suits shouldn’t decide what stories deserve your attention and energy.
For example, I decided almost every story involving celebrities doesn’t deserve my time. Brad and Angelina filing for divorce is sad, but it’s not news. Kanye West being hospitalized is alarming — I pray he recovers — but it’s not news.
Positive, redemptive news is everywhere.
You don’t see things as they are. You see things as you are. Jesus says it this way “The eye is the lamp of the body..”
Whether you see a hopeless world or a hopeful one, you’re right. Your perspective shapes your world, in other words. The news is one-sided for a reason…dolla’ dolla’ bills, y’all. Negativity sells. If you’re stuck in a mindset of fear and scarcity, you need to put down the phone, turn off the tube and look around.
If you have eyes to see, you will quickly notice the world isn’t falling apart.
Think about this. Right now, for the first time in centuries, there are no wars in the western hemisphere. You’re 500 times less likely to die a violent death today than in the Middle Ages. In the last 25 years, 2.6 billion more people have gained access to clean drinking water. Instances of rape have drastically decreased in the last 50 years. So has the number of people in slavery. Rates of infant mortality have also drastically decreased. Google even has a plan to give every human internet access.
Injustices still exist. Yes, we have work to do. But Doomsday is not imminent, despite what CNN, Fox News, or your social media feed might suggest.
When was the last time you noticed the miraculous, redemptive events in front of you?
If you find out two hours later, you will be fine.
The never-ending news cycle leads us to believe it’s irresponsible to be uninformed.
Being “in the know” is not a virtue.
Being “in the know” is somehow virtuous in today’s world. Isn’t that ludicrous? Let’s play a game. Which one doesn’t look like the rest. Integrity. Love. Being “in the know.”
I mean, seriously, if you find out the latest gossip two hours later, are you a lesser human? Of course not.
Some stories matter more than others.
Although I’m not into flashing my background in biblical Hebrew on you, it did cost me a pretty penny, and this is one of the few times it’s valuable. In Hebrew, the word for weight is kavod.
Originally, kavod was a business term, often used to determine something’s value. The heavier the item, the more valuable. Kavod is also used to describe significance or holiness. Kavod is used to describe God’s glory.
God wired us to recognize what matters and what doesn’t. Stories about massive loss of life deserve more kavod than the latest celebrity gossip. Your soul knows this. Your news outlet of choice doesn’t.
Or maybe it does. Either way, this might be the most tragic result of a never-ending news stream. When every story receives the same airtime, the same white space, our internal meter is skewed and we have no filter through which to ascribe significance.
This, I believe, inflicts great harm on our souls.
You must combat the media’s attempt to skew your significance meter. And must do so as if your life depended on it. In many ways, it does. When your heart can’t discern what deserves more weight, uneasiness and anxiety.
Some time ago, I embarked on a journey to recover my sense of kavod. Here’s what I decided to do. When I scroll across a story about injustice, oppression, pain, death or loss, I intentionally focus on it for 10–15 seconds. This simple exercise trains my heart to recognize weightier stories.
Maybe this exercise works for you. If not, find something that re-calibrates your soul to recognize kavod.
You consume too much. Find a rhythm that allows you to be informed without damaging your soul.
Media firehouses us with information, which leaves no space for reflection. Unless you step away from the firehouse, you will drown from superficiality and fear. You need perspective to see things are they are.
Here’s a practical response to this. Turn off push notifications on your phone. Stop allowing dings and dongs to interrupt your life. You decide when you receive news. Every now and then, turn off your phone and disconnect.
Don’t be a slave to your timeline. Find a rhythm of engagement and disconnection. How much of each? Listen to your soul. When hope begins to replace fear, you have found a good rhythm.
As a Christian, I’m hopeful. I believe the best is yet to come. We can engage the news without losing hope. Let’s start today.
Grace and peace.
Frank is lead writer and editor for the blog at Bayside church. He is also a husband, father and Jesus-follower. Occasionally he plays golf. Often he drinks coffee.