About this time last year I was part of a group that read Justin Whitmel Earley’s The Common Rule: Habits of Purpose in an Age of Distraction. The following passage came back to me as I was thinking about the reasons why I read the news and how I consume it.
I was so mad I could not wait to read the headlines when I woke up! I hungrily scrolled Twitter and news alerts. This became my new morning routine, and it solidified a new identity: I am the righteous judge who gets it—and nobody else gets it.
Anger and fear have something in common: we become the center of things. This is why so many of our conversations about headlines start with “Can you believe . . . ?” We’re amazed and indignant that the world doesn’t understand. It’s important to realize how natural and unnatural this is. It’s natural because all people are generally scared and judgmental. That’s what sin has made us to be. But it’s unnatural because media companies prey on that. The news is tailored to incite anger and fear for a financial reason: Nothing brings us back for more headlines (and therefore ads) like anger and fear. They get rich, we get mad. At one point that summer, I picked up a commentary on Isaiah that a former professor had given me long ago. I hadn’t read Isaiah for years, so I decided to browse it. I had forgotten the historical context: two sides (countries in this case) battling to be Israel’s savior while the Lord told them not to capitulate to either and that he would be their savior. Something resonated very deeply, even subconsciously. I began to make Isaiah my morning readings, and I quickly fell headlong into a very, very different story of what was going on. It was a story of a God who loves and defends the poor and the vulnerable, a God who knows how to be righteously angry over injustice while remaining tender to both the victims and the perpetrators of that injustice. Isaiah began to ease me away from being the one who is mad at those who don’t get it. Isaiah made me doubt that I was the one who knew what to do, and it made me wonder if my justice compass needed to be re-tuned daily by the words of the prophets. Most of all, Isaiah rebuked my fear of doom while still giving voice to righteous anger. God will avenge all injustice. There’s no question of that. That’s why we can be at peace even when expressing righteous anger.
The questions of whether we let pundits or prophets calibrate our morning identity is an urgent matter of neighbor love. So long as we look to the news for our identity, we won’t respond to the information with genuine care and concern for our neighbor. We’ll respond by being indignant, a feeling alleviated by aligning ourselves with a tribe against a perceived wrong. All you have to do is pick a side; conveniently, that requires no repentance. Aligning our identity to the king—over the country—is radically different. Only when we’re secure in our identity as children of the coming King, who will right all wrongs, can we read the news for the sake of our neighbors’ needs instead of for the sake of our own inadequacy. Only then are we able to repent, and not just blame another side. When we’re Christians first we can finally be good citizens second. That’s the only way we can avoid being, in the words of Reverend William Sloane Coffin Jr., either uncritical lovers of country or loveless critics of country. But when we’re citizens of heaven first, we finally become loving critics of country next—which is the truest kind of patriotism.
Why do I read the news?
- Do I read the news to love God and my neighbour better (and love might look like like very different things depending on the circumstances)?
- Do I read the news simply to be entertained?
- To have my views affirmed?
- To be made indignant and confirmed and affirmed in my indignation?
What news do I consume?
- What news sources do I engage with?
- What kinds of news stories do I read in terms of theme?
- Which countries do I engage with when I read the news?
- Do I read/listen to local news? National news? International news?
How and when do I engage with the news?
- How often am I consuming the news?
- When am I consuming the news? First thing in the morning before prayer and scripture? Last thing before sleep?
- Do I pray about news stories? Is my reading of the news leading me to prayer?
Source: Justin Whitmel Earley. The Common Rule (pp. 84-87). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.
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