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Sermon Illustrations on the news/media

Background

How to Avoid the Frenzy of Contemporary Events

A contemplative politics entails a two-part movement, one that parallels Thoreau’s injunction to be wary of trivia and devoted to eternal truths. The first involves an askesis, a kind of self-discipline, that refuses attention to the buzzing alerts and urgent headlines that threaten to macadamize our minds. A helpful guide in this endeavor is the French mathematician and theologian Blaise Pascal, who shows how a confidence in God’s providence can free us from seeing the news as a series of reports on existential crises and can enable us to cultivate a holy apathy, a sancta indifferentia, toward this temporal frenzy.

The second movement entails loving action rooted in contemplation of God and his Word. The twentieth-century Trappist monk Thomas Merton serves as a helpful example in this regard; he detached himself from the daily scrum in order to devote himself more deeply to a few particularly important issues such as race relations and interreligious dialogue. And his work on these subjects flowed from prayerful contemplation of Scripture and God’s presence. 

Loving attention to the divine Word should result in profound love for those with whom we share our place and time. As C. S. Lewis remarks, “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.”

Taken from Reading the Times by Jeffrey Bilbro. Copyright (c) 2021 by Jeffrey Lyle Bilbro. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press. www.ivpress.com

Is it Callous to Avoid the News?

The contemporary novelist Barbara Kingsolver, in a marvelous essay detailing why she and her family don’t watch TV, describes a conversation she had with a friend about the airplane crash involving John Kennedy Jr. Kingsolver writes that she hadn’t heard the news because she had been “attending only to the news of my own community” for several weeks, and her friend was shocked that she didn’t know about this tragedy. Yet Kingsolver averred that “it would make no real difference in my life”:

It’s not that I’m callous about the calamities suffered by famous people; they are heartaches, to be sure, but heartaches genuinely experienced only by their own friends and families. It seems somewhat voyeuristic, and also absurd, to expect that JFK Jr.’s death should change my life any more than a recent death in my family affected the Kennedys. . . . On the matter of individual tragic deaths, I believe that those in my own neighborhood are the ones I need to attend to first, by means of casseroles and whatever else I can offer.

I also believe it’s possible to be so overtaken and stupefied by the tragedies of the world that we don’t have any time or energy left for those closer to home, the hurts we should take as our own.

Kingsolver…wisely insists on directing her emotional energy toward people and events to which she can lovingly respond. As Augustine advises, “All people should be loved equally. But you cannot do good to all people equally, so you should take particular thought for those who, as if by lot, happen to be particularly close to you in terms of place, time, or any other circumstances.”

Taken from Reading the Times by Jeffrey Bilbro. Copyright (c) 2021 by Jeffrey Lyle Bilbro. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press. www.ivpress.com

Stories

When Scandales Become Blasé

In his thoughtful book, Our Good Crisis: Overcoming Moral Chaos with the Beatitudes, Jonathan K. Dodson describes what has become a reality of modern-day life-scandals happen every day, and no-one seems to even notice:

After settling into my tech-savvy dining booth at JFK international airport, I heard “breaking news” in stereo. News blaring–flat screens scattered throughout the terminal announced CNN had obtained a tape of a conversation between Donald Trump and his attorney Michael Cohen discussing how they planned to buy the rights to a Playboy model’s story of an alleged affair.

I looked around the terminal, scanning gates and bars filled with TVs. No one paid attention. Not a single person seemed to be concerned that evidence had surfaced indicting an American president of an extramarital affair, with a Playmate, which he tried to cover up by paying her off. Irrespective of political affiliations, this news should grab our attention.

Not a head turned. Why? Perhaps it’s because we’ve become so accustomed to public crises. Just this week I came across the vicious ethnic cleansing of Myanmar’s Rohingya, the massacre of six American women and three children in Mexico, an impudent religious leader hurling racial insults, impeachment hearings in DC, and a college admission scandal. If I’m honest, I’m kind of overloaded, even numb to these atrocities.

Taken from Our Good Crisis: Overcoming Moral Chaos with the Beatitudes by Jonathan K. Dodson Copyright (c) 2020 by Jonathan K. Dodson. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Why We are Reluctant to Share the Gospel

Why is it so intimidating to talk about Jesus in contemporary western culture? One obvious reason might lie in the ubiquitous negative portrayals of Christians in mainstream media. Sam Chan makes this point in his book, How to Talk about Jesus: Without being That Guy as he shares a scene from the American version of the show, The Office. On The Office, Angela represents the closed-minded, angry, and judgmental version of a Christian we see so often (quite lazy writing in my opinion) in (at least) American TV and movies. In the scene below, Jim, the affable protagonist asks everyone to share three books they would bring with them if they were stranded on a desert island:

Jim: “Angela?”

Angela: “The Bible.”

Stanley: “That’s one book. You’ve got two others.”

Angela: “The Purpose Driven Life.”

Jim: “Nice. Third book?”

Angela: “No.”

It’s not hard to see that Christians don’t have a great reputation, especially for some reason in their media portrayals. Most of us would probably argue these are one-dimensional stereotypes (ironic, when you think of Hollywood’s desire to be “nonjudgmental”) but nevertheless, most of us don’t want to look like Angela, which may make us reticent to share the good news when it’s often represented as the opposite on TV.

Stuart Strachan Jr.

Analogies

The Hamster-Wheel of News Coverage

For all our hunger for the next bit of breaking news, we quickly forget it once we’ve extracted the emotional charge it can give us. We are soon hungry for the next outrage, the next unbelievable headline, the next political scandal. We have an intense desire to know something, but the object of that desire remains indeterminate and vague.

So we scroll hurriedly through our news feed looking for something to latch onto. The desert fathers knew that discipline is the only cure for such a condition, and Thoreau agrees: “By all kinds of traps and sign-boards, threatening the extreme penalty of the divine law, exclude such trespassers from the only ground which can be sacred to you. It is so hard to forget what it is worse than useless to remember!”

Taken from Reading the Times by Jeffrey Bilbro. Copyright (c) 2021 by Jeffrey Lyle Bilbro. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press. www.ivpress.com

The News: The Light of the World?

In early 2017, less than a month after Donald Trump was inaugurated as the president of the United States, the Washington Post adopted a new slogan: “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” There is of course a long tradition that sees a free and independent press as essential to a healthy democracy and the common good. In our postfact culture, moreover, paeans to the importance of the press have grown increasingly emphatic.

And for good reason: the media can host a thoughtful, informed conversation around the issues of our day, and such a conversation does indeed serve the common good. Yet, when we are inundated with stories and issues that demand our attention, it seems rather naive to think that democracy will be preserved if we simply have more news, more fact checking, more investigative reporting, and more deep dives.

We don’t just need the media to cast a more piercing light; rather, as consumers of the news, we need to reevaluate the light we rely on to understand our times and discern how to respond. In the prologue to his Gospel, John directs our attention to a different light: the Word who is “the light [that] shines in the darkness.”

And John reassures us that “the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn 1:5). John urges us to place our faith not in the light shed by the news of the moment but in the light of the good news that speaks time itself into existence. The primary light we need to participate in democracy, to serve the common good, and to dwell as faithful citizens of the City of God is shed not by the Washington Post but by “the light of the world” (Jn 8:12). How might we begin living by this light now, in the midst of a world where darkness often seems to prevail?

When the news sets itself up as the light of the world, it is usurping the role that rightly belongs only to the Word proclaimed in the gospel. But when the news helps us attend together to the ongoing work of this Word, it plays a vital role in enabling us to love our neighbors.

Taken from Reading the Times by Jeffrey Bilbro. Copyright (c) 2021 by Jeffrey Lyle Bilbro. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press. www.ivpress.com

Humor

Why We are Reluctant to Share the Gospel

Why is it so intimidating to talk about Jesus in contemporary western culture? One obvious reason might lie in the ubiquitous negative portrayals of Christians in mainstream media. Sam Chan makes this point in his book, How to Talk about Jesus: Without being That Guy as he shares a scene from the American version of the show, The Office. On The Office, Angela represents the closed-minded, angry, and judgmental version of a Christian we see so often (quite lazy writing in my opinion) in (at least) American TV and movies. In the scene below, Jim, the affable protagonist asks everyone to share three books they would bring with them if they were stranded on a desert island:

Jim: “Angela?”

Angela: “The Bible.”

Stanley: “That’s one book. You’ve got two others.”

Angela: “The Purpose Driven Life.”

Jim: “Nice. Third book?”

Angela: “No.”

It’s not hard to see that Christians don’t have a great reputation, especially for some reason in their media portrayals. Most of us would probably argue these are one-dimensional stereotypes (ironic, when you think of Hollywood’s desire to be “nonjudgmental”) but nevertheless, most of us don’t want to look like Angela, which may make us reticent to share the good news when it’s often represented as the opposite on TV.

Stuart Strachan Jr.

More Resources

Related Themes

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Bad News

Human Nature

The Internet

Manipulation

Smart Phones

Social Media

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