Tuesday, April 17, 2007

What Will We Do With It?

Often we are met with incredulity from folks who find out that we have no television reception in our home, we do not listen to the radio, nor do we take the newspaper. Exactly two seconds before the revelation, had you asked one of these people if we seemed backwards, uninformed or out-of-touch with what is happening in the world, they would have answered, "No, of course not". Yet, immediately after discovering this fact about us, they ask, "Well, how do you keep up with what is happening in the world?"

Mr. Visionary, when faced with this challenge, will often ask a person to name five things (non sports-related) that they saw on the news last night, then to explain how their life profitted from acquiring that information. They cannot answer. When we discovered many years ago that we couldn't answer either, we purposely stepped out of the world of media influence. I remember the day I found out that Diana, Princess of Wales died ~ it was on the one year anniversary of the date. On September 11, 2001, I awoke after being up all night at the ER with Napoleon, to a call from a girlfriend about the morning's events. The first time I ever saw footage of the attacks was eight months later on a PBS documentary. I will make a bold statement here, that I believe my life is the better for not having been bombarded with the images of it at the time.

Last night, I could see in Mr. Visionary's eyes that something had happened during the day. Having to be out in the world four days a week, he is not as insulated from the media as me. Events at Virginia Tech hit fairly close to home for us ~ several family members claim it as their alma mater, and Mr. Visionary and I tell the children of our (mis)adventures spelunking in the caves around Blacksburg while dating.  When he showed me an online news article about the murders, my first thought was, "I wonder who will be sent over the edge by watching this?" Judge me if you must, but my first thought was not about the victims of the first crime, the murders, but the victims of the second crime, the besieging of homes with the images of the event.

As much as I desire to sermonize the effects of media overload (and I may one day), and fuss about it's resetting the shock and moral acceptability threshold, I will refrain and ask an important question. When assailed with the images, soundbites and emotional hoopla of the news...what will you do with the information? What is your plan for effecting change in regards to that which you are watching? My intention is not to be fatalistic, just realistic. To quote Neil Postman from his book Amusing Ourselves to Death, "In both oral and typographic cultures, information derives its importance from the possibilities of action. Of course, in any communication environment, input (what one is informed about) always exceeds output (the possibilities of action based on information). [snip]
Thus, we have a great loop of impotence: the news elicits from you a variety of opinions about which you can do nothing except to offer them as more news, about which you can do nothing. "

At best, we can determine to pray for the families involved, for the police and for the students. But will we? Would it even be any more effective than, "God bless those strangers"? At worst, we will do nothing  ~ acting in complete apathy as if we had no knowledge of the tragedy. Somewhere in the middle is that state of fearful worry and helpless despair that dishonors our Father. By our willing involvement in the world of media, we allow it to dictate to us what our emotions should be. The television tells us when to be sad, when to despair, when we should feel guilty for our better circumstances. Why else would we "need" up-to-the-minute reporting if not to hold us spellbound in emotional upheaval?

I submit that, assuming we are even aware of the news, (which I am unwilling to concede is a need), it would be better to allow the Holy Spirit (rather than the news anchors) to lead us into action or intercession. Information for the sake of information is lunacy.  Knowing about all the problems in the world when you are incapable of changing them is a recipe for emotional turmoil. Yes, we need to be aware of the needs around us ~ for the sake of ministry. But when we know more about the war across the world than the needs across the street, why do we wonder at the sorry state of the world? We must be selective about where we spend our emotional and physical energy as well as our time.

Daniel prophesied that, in the last days, "...many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase" (Daniel 12:4), and Proverbs warns about curiosity in that, "Death and destruction are never satisfied, and neither are the eyes of man" (27:20). My belief is that these verses apply to this state of media overload in which we live. It is always good to recognize where Scripture speaks to us.

The question is, "What will we do with it?"

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