One of my favorite morning rituals is sitting down with breakfast and opening up the newspaper. I understand there aren’t many in my generation that still read the news in print, but for me it’s a comforting ritual. Or, at least, it used to be.
For years, I’ve had a rocky relationship with the news. I love to know what’s going on in the world, but I can’t help but notice that the news sources I read all present the story from a definite slant. More and more over the past couple years, I’ve felt like I’m doing battle with the newspaper every morning. Each day, the media machine is telling me whom I should vote for, what to buy, what new disease to fear and whom my country should kill.
The further I go in my journey of discipleship to Jesus, the more I realize that I am in a battle — an ideological or spiritual warfare — with the media I consume. Especially at this time in American politics, as we head into what may be the most contentious and vitriolic election in a generation, I’m wondering to what extent I should be engaging with the news at all.
Here’s one decision I’ve come to for myself: I’m not going to spend any more time consuming media that makes me feel powerless, furious or inadequate. For me, that has meant making the choice to avoid the paper’s A section and go straight for local news. I’m not saying there isn’t propaganda and distortion on the local level; on the contrary, local DC politics is a bit of a mess! Yet it’s a mess that I have a real stake in. I have a voice, however small, in the life of my city. I can take concrete action to drive tangible change.
The choice to shift my gaze locally has been a powerful one for me. I’m still frequently discouraged by the news I read, but I rarely experience the radical alienation that has become so normal when I focus on national and international affairs. I can choose to be an actor rather than a spectator. Reading my local news serves as a preparation for engagement, rather than a temptation to despair.
I think temptation is the right word. Especially now that we are entering into the thick of the American presidential campaign season, I am increasingly convinced that the mainstream media narratives are toxic — damaging to body, mind and spirit. I’m through ingesting toxins and calling it “entertainment.” I refuse to allow myself to be distracted from the joy and challenge of real life, in favor of the three-ring circus that American politics has become.
It’s time to take control of the media I consume. If that means throwing away the A section of the newspaper without reading it, I will. If it means shutting off social media until Nov. 9, then I’ll learn to live without it. Because I can’t let the seed of life get choked out by the weeds. God put me on this earth for a purpose, and it wasn’t for live-tweeting the Republican debates.
How about you? What’s your relationship like with the news these days? Is there a healthy balance you’re able to strike? What does simplicity and faithfulness look like when it comes to what we put into our minds?
Micah Bales is a writer, teacher, and grassroots Christian leader based in Washington, D.C. He is a founding member of Friends of Jesus, a new Quaker community, and has been an organizer with the Occupy movement. You can read more of his work at www.micahbales.com or follow him on Twitter.