The other day, my older son was complaining about the first half of the local news being snow reports. Like his father, he finds it hard to imagine that cold and snow are newsworthy in January. Still I called him out for being a “curmudgeon before his time.” Later, Adam S. piped in and said, “He’s right, though — local news has sold out to panic and drama.”
Most Americans still look to television for their primary news source. With endless channels now, options for almost every political taste, the reporting is still often predominantly bad news. An awful lot of violence. Shootings too close by. Wars around the world. Inequalities, misunderstandings and conflicts that erupt in carnage.
I prefer to read the news, mostly on-line, because there’s more choice of what I pay attention to. I select or pass over from the wider array and deeper coverage in print sources — rather than being spoon-fed the narrower menu of what the broadcaster believes I want or what its corporate interests/clients want me to hear.
I long for, even look for more reporting on peace and justice efforts. On-line resources seem to address that need to some extent. But are such initiatives really that few and far between? Or just not loud enough to make headlines? Or are they not effective to be covered? Or are they unreported? Certainly, positive stories don’t sell as many papers or products for advertisers hence don’t get as much airtime or print space. I wonder why bad news draws an audience?
What’s the effect that this stream of negative reporting has on our consciousness and our worldview?
Watching the news or looking at it out of the corner of your eye while double-tasking is one of the rituals still shared by most Americans. The easy way to try and keep in touch with the larger world — beyond our garden gate and wider than the orbit of our daily lives. I had a mentor who insisted that people who didn’t keep up with the news weren’t committed to staying in touch with reality. I’m not so sure of that. But perhaps we are hoping to figure out where we fit in amidst all that is happening around us.
But, I suspect, as much as goes on around us on the globe — all those headlines — there is “local news” that is just as important and maybe more helpful. But this is news we sometimes don’t focus enough on.
Beloved, we often can’t change much in the world at large or even in other people closest around us. You can really only work on yourself. Therefore, our religious tradition and faithfulness encourage us to keep a close eye on our own lives. I think Jesus spoke to this exhortation when he spoke about a speck in other’s eyes and a log in our own eyes. Or perhaps, more positively, in the humbling expectation that we really “love ourselves” (as in “love your neighbors as yourself”).
Take stock of what’s happening in your life. In your head and heart… and the rest of your body. In those small spaces and the great distances between you and your intimates (those who have already died as well as the living). This material is, I bet, much more useful, beneficial reportage than the latest Isis atrocity or a fight on the # 10 trolley on Lancaster Avenue.
Some of what’s happening is hard to notice. Or isn’t easily seen until years afterwards. Maybe no one else will ever recognize it. But other purely personal events can shake our very foundations from the moment they occur. Together these news flashed — overlooked or cataclysmic — form the narrative of our lives: who we are and what we do with ourselves (and how we respond to what is done to us).
Just like the t.v. news, we can turn to our personal news at various times. In the morning. Or midday. At dinner. Or some of us check in all day long.
I have my own ritual newscast late each night, when I am already in bed, waiting to fall asleep. Like a video that runs in my head.
First, I try to remember everyone on my prayer list. And anyone that the day just past recommends adding. That’s a little kaleidescopic! It’s faces and hopes, difficulties and thanksgivings. Some nights, I’ve got an almost exhaustive memory of a long list. Other nights, I am forced to practice believing “my people” are already in God’s heart. Still, friends, praying is always a peacemaking effort.
And then I turn to reviewing my other efforts at peacemaking. Which takes me back to the battles, but looking from a different angle.
My older habit used to be replaying the previous day’s contests in the shower the next morning. Sometimes my wife would hear me having animated conversations and ask, “Are you alone in there?” I’d laugh and respond, “Not really, it’s kind of crowded with yesterday’s everyone; but I’m so much smarter in the shower today; I always know exactly the right thing to say a day later.” (Maybe this habit replaced singing in the shower for me since I don’t sound good even there.)
But more recently, I’ve taken to recalling the struggles and battles in those last minutes before sleep overtakes me. I think I first got the idea reading a sermon of Frederick Beuchner’s that a colleague shared with me. And it translates into another form of prayer perhaps. Which is needed because we humans, even are closest and dearest… we wound and are wounded by one another every day, in big and little ways.
So, late night, my memories of the day may be of some new conflict that emerged that day. Other times they’re old battles, that started long ago and I have fought for countless years.
With all this war talk, you might worry that next Sunday I’ll ask us to sing “Soldiers of the Cross.” We’re church folks. As I said in the sermon two weeks back, we like to pretend we don’t have enemies. That we aren’t fighters. But we’re human. We fight to survive. To be noticed, seen, heard. To be loved. To be let go. To get distance…
Church folks, we’re probably just more covert about our battles. It may be with a velvet glove, but it’s violence nonetheless. Even when everyone agrees to pretend it’s play, and there’s really no hurting. But our cold shoulders can be every bit as damaging as a street fighter’s left hook. We’re guerilla warriors; trying to hide our warring ways. Which might miake the injuries harder to deal, maybe even more difficult to heal because they are internal and less visible.
“Be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle.” “Compassion for oneself is humility.” People hurt others because they feel hurt. We are all conflicted, inside and out. And some of us seem to be our own enemies, waging the worst wars with ourselves almost daily.
So I try and keep the reporting in my late night newscast balanced. I must be willing to see myself in less than a flattering light. But I also want to end my day also replaying my efforts at understanding, reconciliation, peace.
As I lay there in the dark, after the prayers, there’s news analysis: What were the wars of my day, those battles within or without?
To be seen. Heard. Understood. Appreciated. Known. Loved.
To be at peace in my own skin as well as with those around me.
To understand and to share with others. And to offer them what I hope to receive from them.
To be effective, affecting and influencing others, particularly how they relate to me. Or shaping how things go in the world, even if only in the narrowest circles.
And there is loneliness, self-doubt, fear, despair, mortality, my internal battles.
Next I try to evaluate. Which battles are worth waging? What struggles am I winning? How I am losing? When should I give up? What’s really worth fighting for?
Finally, before sabbath overtakes me, I try and close my summary of the day with a recap of my attempts at peace:
When I did listen and really hear, maybe more, better than someone was able to explain.
When did I recognize my own shortcomings? Did I ask for help? For forgiveness?
When was I able to see another’s need and share what I had to meet it? Did I, as I suggested to the kids in a Children’s Sermon a few weeks back, offer help before it was asked for?
A daily routine. A personal report.
Usually less than a half hour.
Sometimes with the interruptions of a wandering mind, but never any commercials!
A closing ritual:
The people I pray for.
The conflicts I confess.
The Peace I proffered.
Amen. Goodnight. See you in church,