Current Affairs

A Postman Warning

I had a Neil Postman moment today.  At dinner, talking about technology, about artificial intelligence, my first thought was not how amazing or how wonderful AI is but about the unforeseen negative consequences of radical advances in such technology. Postman eschewed television, particularly network news, his whipping boy, because of just such thoughts.  Because of our cultural worship of technology, few of us actually consider the consequences of technological advances until it’s too late.

Looking past my friend and over my Mongolian chicken, I considered the automobile.  What utility and even beauty they have, what wonderful extensions of who we are, and yet how they have changed us.  They have isolated us from our environment.  Cocooned inside, we move through natural and social landscapes with barely a thought of our surroundings.

I need a convertible, to better get in touch with nature and myself, I think.  This morning I saw a bluebird light on a telephone poll, greeted a man just arriving to clear the land on which houses will be built, waved at Tony, who was on “round two” with his more active dog, felt the rise and fall of the land, noticed the cracks in the sidewalk, remembered walking our children to school.  In a car I would have missed most of that.

What Postman said was prescient: “To be unaware that a technology comes equipped with a program for social change, to maintain that technology is neutral, to make the assumption that technology is always a friend to culture is, at this late hour, stupidity plain and simple.”  And that was in the Seventies. I had a gold Camaro then.

Actually, I love cars.  All I’m saying is that before adopting technology, we better know what it’s doing to us, better hold it lightly.

Holy Subversion

In the last scenes of The Life of Pi, the narrator, having made an astounding trip across the Pacific in the company of a Bengali tiger, tells two contrasting stories about his journey.  Asked which is true, he asks “Which do you prefer?” A more post-modern ending could not be written.  No one but the sociopath really believes that history and its truth — whether personal, societal, or world-shaping — is just a matter of what you prefer to believe.  Statements to the effect that “That’s your truth” or even statements about self-identity in contravention of the obvious (as in a human being saying “I am a dog”) are at best an acknowledgement that our perception of reality is shaped by many factors, among them place, upbringing, and circumstances, and at worst just a mask for self-idolatry, when I am god and what is true is what I say it is, and if I have power, I can make others submit to my definition of reality. This is the pulse of our culture. And yet I am aware of how easily I am infected.

I believe in what Francis Schaeffer called “true truth,” and yet for the sake of peace and acceptance I allow assumptions about the good and true to go unchallenged.  I don’t mean to suggest triumphalism or any sense that I fully know the truth, but I know that finding truth means beginning with God, with the Logos at the heart of all reality.  

Leslie Newbigin, a long-time missionary to India, recognized the Gospel’s claim to absolute truth.  Newbigin wrote that:

“We have to proclaim [the Gospel] not merely to individuals in their personal and domestic lives.  We do certainly have to do that.  But we have to proclaim it as part of the continuing conversation that shapes public doctrine.  It must be heard in the conversation of economists, psychiatrists, educators, scientists and politicians.  We have to proclaim it. . . as the truth about what is the case, about what every human being and every human society will have to reckon with.  When we are faithful in this commission we are bound to appear subversive to those who believe that the cosmos is a closed system. We may appear to threaten the achievements of these centuries in which this has been the reigning belief. In truth we shall be offering the only hope of conserving and carrying forward the good fruits of these centuries into a future which might otherwise belong to the barbarians.”

Newbigin echoed words I heard from Os Guinness nearly 20 years ago when he spoke of our task as one of “holy subversion.” Christ-followers cannot make our bed in this culture. We are a nation in exile. We tend to our families, train our children in truth, rescue those we can from the barbary of radical autonomy, testify to what is true for all, and wait. . . for restoration, for a Kingdom without end.  We can have no illusions that we will gain acceptance, yet even among a pagan culture there are good works to do.  Newbigin said that “[t]he incarnate Word is Lord of all, not just of the Church. There are not two worlds, one sacred and one secular.  There are different ways of understanding the one world and choice has to be made about which one is the right way, the way that corresponds to reality, to the reality beyond all the show that the ruler of this world can put on.”

Subversion?  Thinking this way is a challenge to me, and I fear I am not up to it. But God is.

Changing the Weather

Cover_May2013_120-04-15-2013-101005There are chilly winds blowing in the world.  And yet we have a way of selectively reading reality, filtering out or minimizing the things we don't want to think about, turning up our collar to a frigid truth if we venture out, warming ourselves by the glow of hearth and home.  But sometimes reality gushes in, and we realize that indeed a hard rain is falling.

Two recent articles in First Things changed the normally sunny weather I travel in.  In one by Wesley J. Smith, entitled "Medicinal Murder," the author documents the steady expansion of euthanasia in Europe.  As case in point, he cites Belgium, where suicides are termed by many in the medical community as a "beautiful death," not merely suicides of terminally ill persons but even of those who, because of depression or lack of will to live, are ready to end it all.  Furthermore, he documents the ungodly linkage of euthanasia with organ harvesting.  Society now benefits from mercy killings.  And when there are legal violations of euthanasia laws, enforcement is lax or nonexistent.  Thus, a cultural shift has ocurred where death is celebrated as one more benefit of human autonomy: you can choose when to die, and society and the medical profession will help you and even profit from your death.  Smith notes that once euthanasia is legalized, the categories of people eligible for it expand, but the rest of society ceases to think it matters.  He believes this trend is symptomatic of cultural nihilism.

Perhaps you know this.  Perhaps the essay only confirms what we already know.  But it is worth reading for the last paragraph, where Smith offers the antidote:

What is the antidote?  Love.  We all age.  We fall ill.  We grow weak.  We become disabled.  Life can get very hard.  Euthanasia raises the fundamental question of whether our culture will retain the moral capacity to sustain a culture of care for those who have entered life's most difficult stages.  On that question, it seems to me, hangs the moral future of Western civilization.  For as the Canadian journalist Andrew Coyne has cogently warned: "A society that believes in nothing can offer no argument even against death.  A culture that has lost its faith in life cannot comprehend why it should be endured.

So that's it?  Love?  Not taking to the courts, mounting advocacy for life, passing laws to protect the elderly and infirm?  Just love?

In that same issue of First Things, in an article entitled "Lena Dunhams's Inviolable Self," Alan Jacobs contrasts the moral world of Jane Austen and the apparently amoral world of Girls, an HBO series in its first season.  He describes a sexual fantasy that one of the main characters, Adam, has about his rape of an 11-year old heroin addict.  As shocking as this is, what Jacobs focuses on is even more shocking: In all the reviews of the show none of the journalists admit to the possibility that there could be a moral dimension to Adam's reverie.  And apparently fans have no problem with all this either.  They continue to watch.  This is in contrast to the moral world of Jane Austen, where there are categories of right and wrong and we all know what they are.

Once again, however, the antidote to this amorality is not, Jacobs says, to meet it head on.  He concludes: "To someone who thinks Adam's fantasies are unproblematic, or even commendable, there is nothing for me to say.  I confront a linguistically unbridgeable gap; I confront incommensurability." In other words, these two worlds do not connect.  As I said to someone I was having a heated discussion with many years ago, we have lost the ability to communicate, at least propositionally, as we do not share the same understanding of the world and, in a sense, the same language.  We talk past each other.

So what do we do?  Jacobs says that what we need "is not condemnation. . . but better art and better stories --- better fictional worlds. . . . [N]ot the abolition of mythic sandboxes but the making of sandboxes in which to play with true, or truer, myths."  Rather than simply condemning the fictive world of Girls, we can write and film truer stories that capture the imagination, that give viewers or readers a vision of a different reality.  Rather than shows about the "beautiful death" of assisted suicide, we offer up excellent stories of the reverberating compassion and love that might surround the disabled or aged, stories that help people imagine that compassion grows in the face of suffering, in standing with the dying, not in ending their lives.

We may reach some people by arguing propositional truth.  But in this time we may reach more by telling better stories, by opening a portal to the True Truth at the heart of Reality.  In a culture that no longer speaks our language, our venue for persuasion has shifted.

A decade ago I was standing at the back of the Acoustic Stage at the Cornerstone Music Festival when a muddied grunge-rock fan ambled up.  He stood gaping at what he heard.  "This is beautiful, man, just beautiful.  What is it?"  The acoustic, story-driven songs resonated with him.  All he had heard was the loud and gutteral screaming of the bands playing in the tent next door.  He was mesmerized by the different reality of the Acoustic Stage.  And as a result, I was able to tell him what he was hearing.

"Art," Picasso said, "is the lie that tells the truth." "Tell it slant," said Emily Dickenson.  Christians, get busy lying.  And get busy loving.  That's the antidote for a culture gone wrong.  That just might change the weather.





distracted-cover As of late I have noted that many people I admire are encouraging us to fast from a technology dominated lifestyle.  In recent news, the Pope and Italian bishops are encouraging youth to give up IPods, Facebook, and other technology for Lent.  Chuck Colson gives the same encouragement in today’s Breakpoint article, telling us to “take a technology sabbath.”  And my pastor has given up Facebook for Lent.  That I am reading Maggie Jackson’s new book, Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age, a probing study of our collective attention deficit disorder caused by digital technology, is, perhaps, a divine propinquity: God is trying to get my attention. 

To provide punctuation to these “coincidences,” last night I was reading a short story by Charles Dickens entitled ‘The Wreck of the Golden Mary,” and an old sea captain, lost at sea with crew and passengers, has these thoughts: “O, what a thing it is, in a time of danger and in the presence of death, the shining of a face upon a face!  I have heard it broached that orders should be given in great new ships by electric telegraph.  I admire machinery as much as any man, and am as thankful to it as any man can be for what it does for us.  But it will never be a substitute for the face of a man, with his soul in it, encouraging another man to be brave and true.  Never try it for that.  It will break down like a straw.”  Like Jackson, like Colson, like the bishops and my pastor, all of this drives home the way in which our technology can reduce intimate, human contact, how we need to see a human face.

I can remember, of course, when all this was different.  I had no computer at home.  I had no cell phone.  I had no IPod or PDA.  And TV, while it provided a distraction, a bit of entertainment, was not omnipresent.  And yet it’s difficult to summon up the feel of that era.  Imagine:  If you wanted to know what someone was doing, you called them on the phone or went to see them, and besides, did you really want to know what they were doing all the time, or what they were thinking?  I never gave it a second thought --- then. What did I care what my friend was doing after dinner?  Nowadays, we know a lot more about a lot less.  We read blogs and Facebook pages and monitor Twitter feeds and text messages so we won’t miss anything.  That’s anything.  This need to be connected is a compulsive thing, really, the need to check in, to see what is happening. But the fact is, we were perfectly content, perhaps more content, when we weren’t so connected.

This hyper-connectivity is a compulsion for both introverts and extroverts.  Introverts, who prefer their own thoughts to the chatter of people, can pick who they interact with and when and on what level.  They can think before they speak. Extroverts can cultivate networks of “friends,” something which energizes them.  And yet both find themselves dehumanized by superficial contacts, perhaps even driven by the sense that they can control their relationships by removing someone from their friend list, or ignoring them for a time, or just saying things online that they’d never have the nerve to say in person.  Step back from it for a moment, a long moment, and you see at once how silly and yet how damaging it can be.  And yet most people don’t even know what’s happening to them.

Maggie Jackson believes we are either in the twilight of culture or one on the cusp of a renaissance of attention.  She says that “Twilight cultures begin to show a preference for veneer and form, not depth and content; a stubborn blindness to the consequences of actions, from the leadership on down.  In other words, an epidemic erosion of attention is a sure sign of an impending dark age.”  I don’t know if she’s right, but I do know that technology has not made us better or happier people, that it’s becoming amazingly difficult to have an undistracted conversation or, for that matter, moment with anyone, that we can live as families in one house and yet carry on most of our life in a virtual reality divorced of place: we can be anybody, anywhere, at any time in the netherworld of cyberspace.

I’ve said it before:  I’m no Luddite.  As the captain said, I admire machinery as much as any man, but no machine can substitute for the human face, the peril and promise of real, tangible places filled with real, live people. 

One of the many interviews that Jackson did for her book was one with an undertaker, Tom Lynch, who told her countless examples of how people don’t want to face the physicality of death --- one more indication of how we are preferring our own reality, a virtual one where we don’t have to face death, to a real and physical world.  Lynch read Jackson a quote from poet Robert Pogue Harrison, who noted that we must choose “an allegiance --- either to the post-human, the virtual and the synthetic, or to the earth, the real and the dead in their humic densities.”

I’ll take the earth, the real and, yes, the dead.  Dirt, mud, rain, sun, and people, washed and unwashed, liberal and conservative, winsome and weird.  That’s the right stuff.  Now, if I can just wean myself from the press of the machine.

[Stay tuned:  Ten Ways to Overcome Our Attention Deficit.  Coming Soon]

The New Tribalism?

7531300213 “If you follow marketing trends, you’ve probably been hearing a lot about “tribes” lately. It’s the idea that our culture is a collection of groups with a shared identity, mission or leader. Seems obvious enough. We’ve all seen Braveheart and have a pretty good idea of what a tribe is. But what does it mean for an artist in the 21st century? I think it provides one model for how an artist can have the freedom to create their art and make a living doing it.”  (Joe, at Noisetrade 101)

I don’t intend to pick on Noisetrade, or Joe, or anyone else who is the business of trying to support themselves as artists.  I’m well familiar with niche marketing, or even tribe marketing.  Find your tribe.  Sell to it.  Develop a loyal following.  Most artists will do well to follow this as a model for trying to get gigs and sell music.  But let’s face it --- as a model for the good society, for a culture built around shared values, it’s detrimental.  To the extent it builds a following, it does so around consumption, around music, and around a person.  That model would seem to contribute to the further balkanization of society, because tribes built around something as innocuous as music (in terms of bringing about societal collapse) may also begin to look alike, think alike, and choose to associate with other tribe members.  It’s one step from that to dissing other tribe members and then, at some point, really losing the ability to appreciate and converse with one another.  This is not healthy!

Music should be a bridge across “tribes,” something that brings people of different political and social views, of different lifestyles and looks, and of different racial and social classes together.  Finding something in common, if only in music, can lead to conversation, and conversation can lead to understanding, and understanding might just lead to some consensus about what is true, good, and beautiful, about what a good society ought to look like.  Sometimes I get the sense that no one is much interested in that anymore.  It’s more about who looks like me, thinks like me, and (well) buys like me.

In the end, it’s not my tribe that matters.   The Apostle Paul said that we are not to seek our own good, but the good of our neighbor (1 Cor. 10:24), and the admonition to do good extends to everyone, not just our immediate neighbor, not just our tribe (Gal. 6:10).  Rather than reach our tribe with music, why not reach out to a larger group?  Some artists do this quite effectively.  For example, I went to a Josh Groban concert with my wife.  I saw the requisite swooning women, of course, but I also saw men and women of every age group --- all attracted by his artistry and a music that really transcended the boundaries of language, religion, age, race, and preference.  I don’t prefer him, but I came away with a great appreciation of his music and his artistry, and his ability to reach across tribes.  Frankly, that should be not just the goal of the artist but of us all.

Live, Pray, Consume

In today's devotional from Ravi Zacharias Ministries, "Consuming Church," Margaret Manning laments the pervasive consumerism of society and its infiltration of the church.  She says:

consume But what has a consumer-driven mentality done to the way in which we participate in and view the church? Our casual language about “church shopping” belies one of the more subtle impacts. No longer do we see the church as the organic representation of Christ’s body, Christ’s mission in which we are joined as “members,” but we are instead “shoppers” examining who has the best product. How many programs does this church offer? What about the quality of the music program? And how about the preaching? Is it relevant and does it speak to my life, my circumstances? Do I leave Sunday worship feeling better and happier?

I know this is a danger, and perhaps it's an old story.  Church marketing techniques are well-known, and often success is measured by "sales," that is, people in the pews, but I am concerned more with what to do about this tidal wave in my own life and, beyond that, for culture at large.  When consuming is how I was reared, is what I know, is what is preached to me from every billboard, TV screen, movie, web page, and urinal (yes, ladies, they even put ads in there), how do I unlearn what has become a way of life?  And beyond that, how does an economy like ours return to an emphasis not primarily on consuming but on producing and saving?  I often sense that if I do not continue to spend, the economy will grind to a halt, if we don't keep borrowing money and spending then the GNP will sink, and we'll end up in another Great Depression.

But then I know I haven't a lick of economic sense.  I haven't the slightest idea what to do about the economy, how to get us out of this enslavement to consumption.  All I know is that it can't be right, can't be all there is to living in the world. 

Take stock. Look around.  There are a lot of things that bring joy and pleasure in life that you didn't pay for, that you can't buy.  Maybe I just need to look at those things more --- the moon above the pine trees, my family moving through our home, sunlight through a window, a cardinal on the feeder, the chatter of the neighbor's children playing, crisp air, and unmerited grace.  The things I tend to love so much pale in comparison. 

The Better Politics of Stories


If you've been a regular reader of this blog, you'll know that despite its variegated content it does assiduously avoid commentary on one set of topics --- politics and social issues.  It's neither apathy nor lack of opinion that prevents me from eloquence on such things, but both fear of embarrassment and principle.  First, I feel woefully ignorant about most social and political issues, and sometimes the more I read about them the more ambivalent and confused I become.  I don't watch the network news because, like the late Neil Postman, I want to be educated and not entertained with news.  Well, no I'm not actually like Postman. He's a really smart guy. I read the newspaper.  I read enough to know what I don't know.

But my second reason for my reluctance is on principle: I dislike the Manichean tendency of most political and social discourse, the sense that the issue is black and white, that there is a clear choice between right and wrong and, the writer would tell me, "I'm right and they're wrong."  I also don't like the prevalence of ad hominen attacks (attacks on the person), as when commentators simply call a politician a "liar" or otherwise suggest that they are stupid, lazy, or immoral.  The language of many commentators is so acerbic; witty is one thing, nasty and biting is another.  The language of talk show hosts, many politicians, and political weblog writers is tiresome and unilluminating.  I know this is a gross generalization, but I think it largely true.

In a recent editorial in our local newspaper, Peder Zane, who usually reviews books, nails the problem with much of the social and political advocacy surrounding big issues.  In "Rhetoric Heats Up, Reality Fogs Up," Zane asks "Are we being told the whole truth about global warning?"  He notes that one of the statistics used by Al Gore and other advocates of serious (and expensive) action to combat global warming is that the 10 hottest years in American history have occurred since 1995.  When it was subsequently pointed out that the statistic was dead wrong, NASA retracted it, but there was little to no coverage of the retraction.  Advocates of global warming action continue to use the statistic or, at best, ignore the contrary evidence, and conservative pundits trumpet the error as proof that the whole thing is much ado about nothing, or at least nothing we can or should do anything about.

What Zane concludes is that the error was buried or ignored because it constitutes an "inconvenient truth."  The findings don't necessarily undermine the case for global warming, but they do complicate it.  Complicated stories are difficult to sell to the public.  They do not create a groundswell of support.  Complex issues like global warming are full of research findings that are at times contradictory, paradoxical, and incomplete, with every conclusion qualified and provisional.  This leads to a public waxing over of the eyes --- a loss for the advocate.  And yet most people instinctively know that most things are never so simple, never so cut and dried.  Why?  Because we know that's how people are, their actions full of mixed motives.  And we know that's how we are.

Furthermore, we Christians should know better.  Despite the perspicuity of the Gospel --- its plan of salvation so simple and clear that even a simpleton can understand it and come to faith in its truth --- when we attempt to plumb the depths of each truth --- like Trinity, Incarnation, God's sovereignty and individual freedom, to name a few deep truths --- we grow in understanding and, yet, at the same time realize how utterly mysterious and paradoxical these great truths are (and how far short of understanding the mind of God we are).  It doesn't mean we don't act on what we know, and yet a humility undergirds our action, a deepening knowledge that the more we know the more we realize how much we don't know, the more we know God the more we realize just how incomprehensible He is.

The Gospel story is just that --- a mysterious story where not everyone acts the way we expect, where even God surprises us.  There's an adulterer and murderer who is deemed "a man after God's own heart.."  Another murderer is chosen to lead God's people out of Egypt and through the wilderness.  One murderous zealot becomes an apostle; a liar, too.  Even Christ himself has a prostitute in his ancestral line.  In true stories, there are all kinds of surprises.  People aren't always what they seem.  Things are complicated, wrapped in mystery, and sometimes impenetrable.  And yet these good stories seem so much more true than most of the "stories" told by the advocates of political and social action, who so often ignore or gloss over inconvenient truths because they don't fit their story and may distract the audience who may waver in their support.  As G.K. Chesterton once said, "The simplification of anything is always sensational."  Complexity is not.

I don't know a lot about politics and have even less of use to say about it.  I don't know what causes global warming, and I don't know what to do about it.  I'm trying to understand.  I'll act on what bit of truth I have.

But I do know people.  And what I read in stories (the good ones, anyway) tell me more about what to do in life than Al Gore, Rush Limbaugh, or most blogger-advocates.  That's the politics of stories.  That's the Gospel.  That's the politics of the heart and soul.

Summer Reading (Quick Hits)


Although I'm reluctant to do it, I sometimes put books down and take up some magazine and newsletter reading.  I simply find that books offer a richer experience while reading magazines and newsletters, while enlightening for a moment, simply doesn't stick to me.  However, I have read a few articles that were worthwhile mentioning and worth re-reading.

World Magazine's recent books issue had an excellent "interview" with Southern novelist Flannery O'Connor entitled "Instruments for Good."  Actually, since O'Connor is long dead, they asked questions and answered the questions using quotes from O'Connor's Mystery and MannersIt's an excellent summary of what it is to be both Christian and writer, and I recommend it to both writers and readers of fiction (as I do her book).  In fact, the whole issue is worth perusing, as it includes an article comparing the fictional worlds of writers Jan Karon and Wendell Berry ("Fictional Communities"), a list of their all-time favorite 100 books (which I didn't find terribly convincing), and a survey ("Backward Atheist Soldiers!") and critique of the recent handful of anti-religion books, such as Christopher Hitchen's God is Not Great, which confirmed what I thought:  if you want to hate religion and not believe in God, you'll do it even if there's scant evidence for your position.

On that note, Udo Middleman, son-in-law of the late Francis Schaeffer, provides a more extensive critique of the anti-God writers in the Summer issue of Footnotes, the newsletter of The Francis Schaeffer Foundation. I always find a unique perspective in his views as a European Christian.  He points out the great fallacy of lumping Christianity together with all other religions.

Finally, as Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity, is always a good read, I spent some time there, in the July/August issue, particularly with Anthony Esolen's "Esther's Guarded Condition: Dying When Common Sense and Decency Have Departed," an account of his experience with his mother-in-law as she lay dying in hospital, of how they had to insist to hospital staff that she be fed intravenously and were made to feel that they should simply let her starve to death as she was dying anyway.  I have not been in this situation, but one day I will be, and this first-hand account is part of my preparation.

Well, my magazine and journal stack remains about a foot high, but that, folks, is enough of such reading for now.

Sirius Gets Serious

Sirius_logoOcassionally I listen to Sirius Disorder, Channel 32, because I like the eclectic nature of it and the sometimes rambling commentary by DJ Michael Tearson. Today I felt like calling him.

I jumped into Channel 32 when Tearson was in the middle of a commentary on the killings at Virginia Tech. Basically, this is what he said: "What's happening to us? Something is wrong. We must be evolving or mutating, I mean devolving." He went on like this for a few more minutes, wondering why innocents are killed, what is wrong with man, and so on. It reminded me of the reaction after 9-11, when the enormity of evil confronted us. People searched for some reason as to how people could murder innocents in such a way. And then the moment passes and they move on.

What would I say to Tearson? It'd be no answer to point to religion, of course, as many people have been killed in the service of that cause. But I would begin with his recognition that something is wrong with man. Years ago an Atlantic Monthly headline article put it this way: "Why Can't We Be Good?" An event like that of this week brings home to people that we can't be good, only less bad, perhaps.

I might say something like this: "Michael, if you look at history you would see that this is not a new phoenomena. People have always committed atrocious acts. [Herein list a litiany of horrors if he is unconvinced.] You're really noticing something true about the human condition: we're bent people, capable of good but also bent toward evil. Christians call that sin -- a condition of living against the purpose for which we are created, outside the Creator's plan. [Michael also said this kind of violence is not what we were made for.] So, the question is how we get better. History shows we're not very capable of making much progress on that. For every Mother Teresa, there are more Stalins and Idi Amins, whether grandly evil or eveil only in petty regards. We obviously need some outside help --- outside religion, outside the therapeutic society, outside social engineering. We need someone or some thing big enough to change us from within. Isn't that what Jesus promised?"

It's refreshing to hear the truth in an unlikely place -- Sirius Disorder. But the fact of our fallen nature like so many other creational truths is unavoidable. Let's hope Michael Tearson prompted a few listeners to wonder why we are as we are.

Thinking Locally, Acting Locally?

TvIn a post entitled "My Village, My Problem," Catherine Claire wonders to what extent being well-informed about the world outside our local community is productive or even biblical. Her thinking on this is prompted by a letter written by C.S. Lewis, where he considers the same question and says, in part, this: "It is one of the evils of rapid diffusion of news that the sorrows of all the world come to us every morning. I think each village was meant to feel pity for its own sick and poor whom it can help and I doubt if it is the duty of any private person to fix his mind on ills which he cannot help. (This may even become an escape from the works of charity we really can do to those we know)" (C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis: Volume II, Letter of Dec. 20, 1946). It's worth considering to what information we need to subject ourselves and to what end.

A year or so ago I read, rather belatedly, the late Neil Postman's critique of televison, particularly network news, entitled Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. His point was that most televsion news was not to inform, but to entertain. We find it titillating. There is little to nothing we can do about what we see and yet we continue to watch, almost voyeuristically. Well, I found myself in agreement. I quit the news. Now when I see it I find it repulsive and annoying. The sensationalistic stories, the cult of personality, the jabbering heads, and the lack of any serious in depth coverage is terrible. Mostly, I do not watch.

Despite its drawbacks and editorial bias, I do read the local newspaper. There are useful articles with some depth at times (I'm not talking about USA Today, which is like TV), and there is local information that I may be able to do something with (like an article about good hikes in the area). I also read Time (which has more in depth coverage than TV news) and World Magazine (for a decidedly and admitted Christian perspective on the news. I do find some things I can pray for this way, and I am helped in an understanding and appreciation of my community and world.

I suppose what I object to is the immediacy of network news, or even internet news. It makes everything seem urgent or important. It may not be. And it certainly may not be something I need to worry about. You know, I can do very little about global warming, whatever its cause. But I can listen to a friend's problem, help a needy family, and pick up trash in the park near our home. That's thinking locally and acting locally.