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What are we going to care about next?

Something to think about...

What are we going to care about next?

Somewhere, someone is planning what we should care about next. Pundits, reporters, talk show personalities, activists: they all have a plan for what we need to care about. Millions of us listen every day, and our thoughts and emotions are driven by things that are real, but are far from us. Meanwhile, all around us, we lose track of the hurts and lives of real people that matter to Jesus. I’ve addressed this before as it related to our spiritual focus, but now is a good time to ask the question: What will we care about next, and why?

Update: I started this line of thinking some time ago with the essay “I Am Not A Conservative Christian.” I want to challenge some of my media-addicted friends to honestly ask themselves who determines their spiritual passion: Jesus or Rush/Hannity/O’Reilly?

Sunday morning, during prayer time, one of the sweet, wonderful ladies of our church asked that we pray for the family of a murdered child who had been in the national news recently. Her request was genuine, and full of compassion.

I frequently pick out prominent news items and shape them into prayer requests for our church. Political events that affect missions. Natural disasters. Social trends. Even crime. So I understand where she got the prayer request. She got it off the news she’d watched that week. It was a very tragic and affecting story, and appropriate for prayer.

As I type, the whole country is riveted to the Terri Shiavo drama. The Florida Supreme Court has refused to hear the state’s custody request. All over the news and the blogsphere, there’s been little else being talked about. The story is tragic, compelling and important. (Don’t write me.)

It is at times like this that I realize how much of what we all “care about,” is generated by our media of choice, and what it tends to focus on. In a very real way, our compassion is directed- perhaps manipulated- by the media we watch or read. Without demoting the importance or reality of any of the stories we focus on, I wonder if we’ve considered why we care, and more importantly, what we don’t care about- and why?

For example, the woman who requested prayer for the murdered child lives in a community that is blighted with drugs, violence, abuse, ignorance, poverty and despair. But it’s not on the evening news. It’s all around us, but it’s not on the television. If you spend the evening at home watching CNN or Fox, just about anything could go on all around you, and you would only know what the cable pundits directed you to care about. If you are typical, you will care about what you see before you care about what you don’t see.

Fox News has this sort of journalism down to an art. Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and Greta Van Sustern- watch them and you will know what the outrages are in our world. What issues to be angry about. What politicians to blame. What court cases really matter. We’ll see plenty of Michael Jackson’s trial for child abuse, and probably know nothing about the abuse problem in our own community.

Christians? Tune into Dobson, Mohler and a thousand other religious pundits who will keep your outrage focused where they believe- sincerely- that it needs to go. Right to Life issues. Threats to Marriage. The threats of liberalism to Christians. It’s Washington and Hollywood, not Mayberry and Oneida, that matter.

My mom isn’t much of a tv watcher (listener these days,) but she is very aware of the needs in her family and neighborhood. She’s a people person and a classic “good neighbor” to those less fortunate, even when she has problems of her own. She simply enjoys caring about others. So it always sticks out like a sore thumb when she watches/listens to Larry King, and starts asking me about Scott Peterson or some other national media case as if it really makes a huge difference in the world. I’ll admit it annoys me a bit, because Scott Peterson’s fate is nothing but manipulative theater to my mom, and at 83, I’d rather she worry about something else, like whether her friend next door is getting enough to eat.

I have family who are full time viewers of Fox, CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, the 700 Club, TBN and C-Span. They are regularly angry about the issues these programs put before them. Emotionally upset and deeply concerned. Meanwhile, people who don’t watch those channels have no idea that these stories and issues are threatening our way of life. They look around them to see where the problems are that they can address and help. Who is out of touch? And with what?

Today I read a Christian blogger’s post saying that if you did not agree with his view of the Shiavo case, you probably weren’t a Christian. I don’t know the Shiavo/Shindler family. I hear from lawyers, experts and lots of pundits on television, radio and print. They all have strong opinions. In fact, they seem to know too much about this story. They know so much that you start to hear a lot of conflicting information, and some of it sounds very suspect. Emotions are very agitated, and reasonable people who see lots of complex problems all around, get drowned out.

We’re told how we must feel, and what we must believe about what is “important.” We are told who are the good guys and the bad guys. We are told that the fate of our culture is in the balance. We are told that it’s the dawn of a culture of death. We’re told that the Nazis are in control. Christians are praying….or making threats. There’s a sense of unease because so much emotion has been poured out through the media. There’s a lot of emotion, and it seems be a crisis. This may all be true, but when I look at Jesus, and at those who know him and follow him closely, I don’t see this kind of manipulative emotional roller coaster.

Now, in between the crisis and the experts, there are commercials and promos. I assume the price of these advertisements is somehow tied to how many people are watching. So we always pause in our discussion for a message from our sponsor. The blogs are getting to be much the same way. Blogs that tell you what you must care about are full of ads telling you other things you must care about. It’s all desperate and urgent. Click now or suffer the fate of the ignorant masses.

In the library the other day, a man next to me was checking a series of liberal, moonbat, drooling, paranoid conspiratorial websites. The Republicans abuse children. They are all involved in the sex trade of young girls. There is a lot of sex and cover-ups going on in the Bush family. Everyone is in league with terrorists, oil barons and evil politicians. The web pages shouted out their messages in big print. All the stories were scary. He finally left, and I was glad.

See, I didn’t know about any of this. And I still don’t. I don’t want to know about these stories. I get my news from Drudge, Obscure Store and Christianity Today. It’s the things I care about. One of my students had to write a current events column, and all he included were NASCAR stories. I understand this, because I monitor 6 baseball blogs myself.

If I want to know what to care about, there is always someone to tell me. I can custom design the things that I care about with cable channels, radio stations and web pages. I can care about religion, sports, conservative politics, health issues, youth culture, money, the environment, or whatever interests me. It’s really not hard to care anymore. The directions are everywhere, and I’m listening.

What’s hard is to care about the people in my church. They don’t really speak up and say what’s going on in their lives.

I don’t know about the feeding tubes and horrendous ethical choices being made in the local hospital. I know it happens, but there’s no one telling me.

I don’t know what’s happening with the families around me unless it’s very bad, or very public. And then it’s usually too late.

I don’t even know all I could know about my students, my co-workers or my extended family. We’ve always got other things to do, and there’s no one telling me that I should care more about these people than those on the television or the computer screen. Well….maybe Jesus.

I know there is poverty and suffering all around me, but I only hear about the occasional crime, death, or house fire. The social workers and law enforcement officers know a lot, but I really don’t know much. I’m intimidated by all those problems. I’m just one guy. Now when it comes to spectating or writing a few blog comments…THAT I can handle.

I have a friend who has been a home health nurse for 30 years. She travels the back roads and “hollers” of the area giving medical care to some of America’s poorest people. I don’t think she knows about Scott Peterson or Michael Jackson. I doubt if she’s heard more than a basic outline of the Shiavo case. But she intensely, deeply cares about the people around her, and is dedicated to their welfare. She is a devoted Christian who was raised Amish and still believes that the real people around her are more important than what the media says she must care about.

I think she’s right. No disrespect to anyone, anywhere who’s suffering, but we don’t need to be told by the pundits who or what to care about. We need to be part of the relationships and world around us, caring about the people God puts in our “circle of influence.”

Are Christians ready to admit that no media- not Fox, Worldnet or Christianity Today- are anointed to tell us what to care about? Don’t get me wrong…we sometimes need the media to tell us the facts about Rwanda and the tsunami victims. If they didn’t we wouldn’t know and we need to know. But this kind of information must be put into perspective by a more compelling and important vision. The vision of Jesus.

We must listen to the Good News of Jesus to balance out all that we hear with the reality that is all around our immediate, personal world. It was no mistake that Jesus went to the villages around his home and helped the people who were last, lost, least and overlooked. These were “his people,” and they mattered. The Kingdom of God was on earth in Jesus, and it was as powerfully present in these communities as it would have been in Rome or Jerusalem. Jesus looked with compassion on the villages of Galilee, and the Good News is Good News for those places.

Christians need to step back from the media that tells us what we should care about. Media has an agenda. Always. That agenda is never identical to the agenda of Jesus in my world. No Christian media can take me into the lives of people around me. The example of Jesus does that. I need to listen to him.

What will we care about next? Somewhere, someone is deciding that very question. Jesus, on the other hand, has already shown us where we should be looking for the Kingdom of God, and it’s not on cable or the internet.

-by Michael Spencer
You are right about that , we should watch for the Kingdom of God .
Present world isnt save and peaceful at the moment . But coming of the Kingdom of God happen, when God have decided , it is time. Media and Internet brings news around the world powerfully at the front of us . Good or bad, hard to say. Just have to follow instructions from Jesus . Reach people and turn them to hear Good News . That work continues, as long as there is time for it .
Great article Coconut,
It seems we have upheld the great commission and forgot the the great commandment.
I believe it is easier to witness Christ's love to a stranger than to neighbor. My neighbor heres my words but he also can see my lifestyle as well.

Jesus said in Matthew 5, that we are to love even our enemies and most of mine are right in my own community.

Thanks for the reminder to saty in tune with our communities.
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