Foundry UMC

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News and Views

May 7th, 2017

A sermon preached by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli at Foundry UMC, May 7, 2017, the third Sunday after Easter.

Texts: Proverbs 15:28-33, Habakkuk 2:18-20

 

Ayurveda is a traditional Indian, holistic healing system that pays attention to what we put into our bodies—and not just food, but also images, surroundings, relationships… Ayurveda is a complex system, but grounded on a pretty basic principle: what we take in to our bodies and lives affects our overall health and well-being. This ancient medicine came to mind as I read today’s verses from Proverbs.  The focus in the text isn’t food—a prominent part of Ayurveda—but rather is on words and messages spoken and received.  The body is mentioned again and again—the “mind,” the “mouth,” the “eyes,” the “ear” are all named.  And the line that really struck me:  “good news refreshes the body.” (Pr 15:30b)  Good news.  Who doesn’t love good news?  Receiving good news is like being offered a drink of cool water on a hot day, refreshing and nourishing…  But these days, it often feels like there is an absence of much good news. It feels like we sojourn in a dry and weary land; we can begin to feel parched.  Disturbing news, confusing news, bad news is readily available and always popping up on our screens—screens that go with us everywhere.  Recently, I heard Anne Lamott say that children observe their parents carrying around full multimedia empires on them!  The ping or buzz of our devices functions like Pavlov’s bell, eliciting a compulsive need to look. Practitioners of Ayurveda would caution against the imbalances and dis-ease caused by too steady a diet of “screen time” and disturbing news.

 

As I did research for today’s sermon, I was reminded of the ways that what we call “the news” —especially the TV and online news—is such a small slice of what is happening in the world.  These outlets have all sorts of incentives to broadcast bad news—ratings and ad money to name just a couple.  And this “click bait” and constant stream of upsetting reports is in our face any time we turn on our smartphone, our television, or our computer.  There is a plethora of data and reporting on the harmful effects of constant connection via mobile devices and the steady streaming of “news” and information.[i]  Mary McNaughton-Cassill, a professor at the University of Texas–San Antonio and leading researcher on the connection between media consumption and stress, is clear that folks who suffer from mental illnesses like anxiety and depression need to be very careful about their news intake.  And for all of us, taking in bad news can contribute to a sense of helplessness…and “can also lead us to gradually see the world as a darker and darker place, chipping away at certain optimistic tendencies.”[ii]  This confirms the ancient Indian medicine.  What we engage and “take in” deeply affects us—for good or for ill. 

 

Our “Soul Food” series is focused on things that nourish our lives—things that provide perspective, grounding, energy, hope, and encouragement.  So far, we’ve explored the benefits of laughter and engaging with the created world.  And today our focus is on how to manage our use of devices and our intake of “news” and other messages. 

 

In the months following the election, I heard all sorts of perspectives on this topic.  Some folks said we needed to be more vigilant than ever in staying informed and up to date on what is happening.  Others said the thing to do is turn the news off completely because it’s simply too damaging, too full of “spin,” and ultimately not helpful.  Still others were working on strategies to hover between the “all-in” or “cut it off” extremes—and sought out a measured, balanced diet of solid journalism from several different perspectives.  Many of us, of course, have no choice about whether or not to follow the news because our job requires that we know the headlines and stay in the conversation.  But even if that’s not your reality, for those of us committed to sacred resistance, it is important to find ways to stay informed.  As I have suggested before, it is also our responsibility to guard against confirmation bias—that is, to listen to a variety of voices, not only those that confirm what we already think.  We need to “stay awake” but we also have to be mindful of the effects of what we are “taking in.”  Just as our bodies need a balanced diet that works with our particular constitution, our psyches and souls need a balanced diet as well. Feeding ourselves only bad news will make us sick. 

 

“The light of the eyes rejoices the heart, and good news refreshes the body.”  My study Bible says that “the light of the eyes” refers to “the cheerful look of the messenger.”  In other words, the way the message is communicated makes a difference.  And “good news refreshes the body” is pretty straightforward.  We need to both monitor the intake of challenging news AND feed ourselves with good news that is communicated with “light” in the eyes.  How do we do this?

 

McNaughton-Cassill suggests that the most important piece of guarding against the negative effects of the news, it to “get conscious.”  “That is, stop consuming news like a hungry teenager wolfs down a Pop-Tart …‘You have to get some control mentally.’…The more you understand your own reaction to the news, the easier it will be to shape your news-consumption habits in an adaptive way.  It’s also useful to see the bigger pictures, of course. ‘Consciously focus yourself on the evidence around you that the news is picking out the extremes and the bad things,’ McNaughton-Cassill said.  In other words, understand that you’re seeing a lot of bad news not because the world is an inherently evil place, but because news outlets — not to mention individual Twitter and Facebook users — have lots of incentives to broadcast explosively negative news stories.”[iii]  Get conscious…keep perspective.

 

// I’ve been trying to practice what I preach in terms of guarding against confirmation bias.  I find it difficult and exhausting to try to search out a variety of perspectives.  One resource I’ve recently discovered is a weekly newsletter that pulls together reporting on the activities of the president from both liberal and conservative news outlets.  It’s called “Last Week in Trump”[iv] and, according to the editor, is “an attempt to cut through all the noise that surrounds coverage of Trump on both sides while also building some badly needed empathy between liberals and conservatives.”[v]  When I became aware of this resource, I felt like someone had just offered me a gift.  There is help available!

 

So that’s some guidance for how to manage our intake of challenging news and at least one resource to try to listen to a variety of perspectives. What about balancing the diet with some good stuff?  I am aware of several sources that exist to share good news—the stories that don’t generally take center stage in mainstream media.  Perhaps some of you subscribe to “The Optimist” newsletter from The Washington Post. This arrives in my email box every Sunday, carrying with it stories that are uplifting and positive.  I also discovered a couple of websites that curate stories that have the potential to “refresh the body.”  One is called “Daily Good” and another is called “Good News Network” (not to be confused with the “Good News” magazine or movement in the UMC).[vi]  I’m thinking about how I might replace the current landing page when I open up the internet on my computer with one of these sites.  What would it be like to be inundated with interesting, positive stories first, rather than the junkfood that so often fills my screen’s proverbial “plate?” (do I really need to see anything else about a Kardashian?)

 

It is amazing how much flows through these little devices we carry around.  They are the portals for so much information, the source of so much truly helpful data.  I honestly don’t know how I ever found my way anywhere before having this phone…   I’m grateful for the ways that my phone and various social media apps like FaceBook help me stay connected to people I care about.  I love being able to share—even in a remote way—in some of the joys and concerns of friends and family all over the country.  I find that some of those online applications have helped me know some of you more—as we’ve “interacted” via FaceBook or Twitter.  The devices and technologies we have are so powerful—allowing for rapid responses to pressing needs and organic movements to take shape and all sorts of creative ventures to get financial support and on it goes.  There are apps and sites that help us connect in prayer and meditation—Pray As You Go, Insight Timer, Sacred Space, and Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals—just to name a few.  There is so much blessing that can be received through these devices!  But as with any gift, technologies can be used for good or for ill.  It’s up to us to be mindful of when and how we use our devices—what we take in and what we share through them affects life in significant ways.

 

Yes, we need to stay awake, informed, and aware.  But we also need big helpings of good news.  “Good news refreshes the body.”  It is soul food.  And if we are really paying attention, we know that in God’s world there is always more than enough good news to go around. Why not partake?  Why not share?  Because, God knows, everyone’s hungry.

 

[i] Here are a few: http://www.activebeat.com/your-health/women/6-health-dangers-of-smartphone-overuse/?utm_medium=cpc&utm_source=bing&utm_campaign=AB_BNG_US_DESK&cus_widget={placement}&utm_content=search_marketing&utm_term=Smartphone

http://ndoherty.com/why-you-should-stop-watching-the-news/

https://www.theguardian.com/media/2013/apr/12/news-is-bad-rolf-dobelli

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/your-neurochemical-self/201410/stop-traumatizing-yourself-watching-the-news

http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2014/08/what-all-this-bad-news-is-doing-to-us.html

[ii] Jesse Singal, “What All This Bad News Is Doing to Us,” New York Magazine, The Science of Us, August 8, 2014, http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2014/08/what-all-this-bad-news-is-doing-to-us.html

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] http://lastweekintrump.com/, http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/last-week-in-trump-newsletter-aims-to-offer-the-best-of-both-bubbles/

[v] https://www.geekwire.com/2017/last-week-trump-newsletter-distills-hyper-partisan-news-create-empathy-sides/

[vi] The Washington Post <newsletter@paloma.washingtonpost.com>

http://www.dailygood.org/

http://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/

 

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