BY EMILY O'CONNOR, COMMUNICATIONS INTERN
Most days, it can be overwhelming to scan a newspaper, scroll through a Twitter feed, or watch the evening news. I get notifications on my phone from The New York Times, and those tiny banner notifications usually feel like one gut punch after another.
When the world seems a bit too daunting, my first inclination is to withdraw. If I had my druthers, I would rather not hear about the latest natural disaster, the most horrific mass shooting in U.S. history, tensions with North Korea, and the perpetuation of systemic racism in our country – all before dinner. I don’t think I’m alone in that, but withdraw does not seem like the best option
Despite the world’s contempt at journalism, I have never been more confident in it. I studied journalism in college and worked in a city newsroom reporting on the state legislature and local politics. Journalists pursue accuracy, transparency, and holding those in power accountable. Journalism stands as a pillar of democracy, and we need it now more than ever.
My faith added an important layer to my studies in college. I chose journalism because storytelling compels people to engage with brokenness. It humanizes statistics, gives voice to the voiceless, and shines a light on darkness.
Here’s the bottom line -- we’re frustrated by what we see, and we don’t know what to do about it. But as God’s Plan A for His world, we must understand and engage with His creation. We are called to be informed citizens and use that information to heal the world. God and current events are not mutually exclusive. God worked through ancient cultures and events to communicate with His people. In the Old Testament, God’s people related with Him through treaties, covenants, natural disasters, kings, kingdoms, wars, politics, etc.
We’re frustrated by what we see, and we don’t know what to do about it. But as God’s Plan A for His world, we must understand and engage with His creation. We are called to be informed citizens and use that information to heal the world. God and current events are not mutually exclusive.
Last weekend, Corinne spoke to us about the Tower of Babel. She said that God intends for us to be fruitful and multiply, to go out and engage the world. The Tower of Babel shows that settling, choosing comfort, and intentionally surrounding ourselves with people who think and speak like us goes against God’s intentions for His people.
Corinne referenced a quote from a Christianity Today article that encompasses the importance of seeing the world as it is: “Christians believe that the world is profoundly broken, but we also believe that God is actively redeeming it and that we are part of the process. Living in this tension means having a clear-eyed view of the world as it is while simultaneously envisioning what it could be.”
We cannot have a clear-eyed view of the world nor see God’s vision for it if we don’t intentionally pay attention to the broken realities we live in. It is healthy to live with a low-grade fever of sadness. The news will break your heart, but it can also light a fire that motivates you to bring heaven on earth.
Take Esther as an example. King Xerxes chose Esther to be his wife, but Esther never told him that she was Jewish. Esther’s cousin Mordecai, who was also Jewish, refused to bow down to King Xerxes, so Xerxes decided to kill all the Jewish people throughout his kingdom. Mordecai implored Esther to stop King Xerxes’ decree, but Esther knew that if she went to Xerxes without permission, she would surely die. To which Mordecai responded:
“Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:12-14).
And what if Esther had responded, “I would rather not get involved in politics. It’s a pretty messy situation, so I’m just going to sit back and pretend it doesn’t affect me.” No, Esther put her brave face on and wisely stopped the king from killing her people.
God will work in the brokenness of our world. He will bring His Kingdom on earth somehow through all the messed-up stuff that’s happening, and He wants to use us to do it. If we remain silent, relief and deliverance will come from somewhere else. But what if we were placed on this earth for such a time as this? And how can we discern the right time to engage if we don’t even know what’s happening?
God will work in the brokenness of our world. He will bring His Kingdom on earth somehow through all the messed-up stuff that’s happening, and He wants to use us to do it.
Paul Stevens said, “If God has come in the flesh, and if God keeps coming to us in our fleshy existence, then all of life is shot through with meaning. Earth is crammed with heaven, and heaven (when we finally get there) will be crammed with earth.” God desires that we invite Him into this physical, human, worldly limbo, bringing heaven on earth.
Let’s accept the challenge to read, understand, and engage with the news of the world. Let’s improve our media literacy – the ability to process, analyze, and apply the information we consume.
Here are some perspectives to consider that might improve media literacy:
1. Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth. Journalists are trained in the art of verifying information and placing it in a meaningful context that helps you operate on a day-to-day basis within your community. Accuracy is the name of the game. I am not perpetuating the rhetoric of “fake news.” Most news outlets report the truth, and it’s not okay to claim something is fake just because you don’t necessarily agree with it.(Side note: The real problem with “fake news” is making sure people consume news from reliable sources. If that random and weird story comes from a source like “breakingnews.com” and you can’t verify it anywhere else, it’s likely not real.) And do not share something unless you know it’s true!!
2. Recognize that unbiased journalism does not exist. The reality is that every human has his/her own biases, and so do reporters. There is no such thing as completely unbiased reporting In fact, it’s better for a news organization to acknowledge its own biases than ignore them, because the acknowledged biases can be accounted for. One of my favorite examples of this was during the presidential election last year when The New York Times openly supported Hillary Clinton. Some people got up in arms – isn’t the news supposed to be “unbiased”?! The Times recognized its beef with Donald Trump, and as a result, it could be transparent about its biases and account for them while reporting. It’s the same with our own brokenness; how can I account for a problem that I don’t know exists? Furthermore, whenever I read the Times, I understood that it might lean more to the left and considered that while applying the information to my world.
3. Don’t kill the messenger. Journalists don’t create the terrible things that happen in the world, they just report them. It’s easy to get mad at news outlets for “only reporting the bad news.” But at the end of the day, their job is to ensure that you’re informed of the world around you, and that means telling you about the not so great stuff that’s happening in the world, the nation, and in our own backyards. Remember there’s good stuff that happens every day, too, it just might not make the evenings news.
4. Worse things have happened throughout history. It’s easy to feel like the world is going to heck in a handbasket because the news seems gloom and doom. But we’ve been in worse places throughout history. Genocides, holocausts, natural disasters, terrible diseases, murders, injustice, tyrants, and wars are not a new thing. They actually used to be a lot worse and, in some cases, more common. The only difference now is that we have the technology to know about these things, and we can hear from the people who live through them. The world isn’t suddenly coming to an end, we’re just more aware it, and that’s good.
5. Process what you’re hearing in a way that’s healthy for you. We consume a lot of unfortunate information, and it’s better that we don’t hold it all in. If you’re a verbal processor, find someone you trust who can talk with you about what you’re hearing. If you’re into activism, find an organization (we have over dozens of partners we work with at Grace, you can start there!) that’s fighting against an injustice you care about and invest your time and resources in their work. If you love nature, get outside and release your stress. Ask God to open your eyes to how He is moving through current events. You might not be able to change the whole world, but you do have an influence over your corner of it. Use that authority to heal the brokenness that stands out to you. Who knows, maybe God put you here for such a time as this.