Not quite six years ago, Ginger and I got to spend a month in Greece and Turkey tracing the steps of the apostle Paul, thanks to a sabbatical grant from the Eli Lily Foundation. Greece has a burgeoning Christian tourist trade, so we traveled with a group for our time there.l In Turkey, we were on our own and found our way through that wonderful and hospitable country thanks to a Turkish travel agent I found listed in the Lonely Planet guide. When we did group things we were a part of much less homogenous groups than we had known in Greece. On a half day bus tour in Istanbul we shared the bus with people from Iran, Hungary, Kazakhstan, England, the Czech Republic, and Australia. When we had time to talk over tea, the first thing each of us said was, “We’re nothing like our government.”
We spent a week in Izmir, which is where Ephesus once was, and had a chance to get to know some of the folks in our hotel over a few days. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were both going strong and people had a lot of questions about the choices then President Bush was making. One Australian man, whose name I have since forgotten, asked with some frustration, “Why aren’t the American people speaking up?”
“They aren’t getting the same information as the rest of the world,” I answered.
That realization was one of the biggest shocks of the trip. In our hotel rooms across Greece and Turkey we were able to watch CNN International. Each day they had hour long programs that spanned the globe: an hour on Asia, then Africa, then Europe, then South America. The delved into the issues on every continent as though it mattered for everyone to be informed. There was little or no celebrity coverage or tables full of pontificating pundits that fill up American air time. And it was the same company carrying out both slates of programming.
The American media thinks the American people are stupid, was my conclusion.
I thought of those days again this evening as Ginger and I were catching up on Daily Shows we missed seeing this week and John Stewart pointed to the cover of TIME Magazine last week around the world
and the TIME cover in the United States.
Nothing much has changed. They still think we are stupid, or perhaps so clueless and privileged that we don’t have to understand what the rest of the world doing. We can be left with the fluff and the mistaken belief that everyone else in the world wishes they were us. For, as John Mayer sang so well,
when you trust your television
what you get is what you’ve got
‘cause when they own the information
they can bend it all they want.
One of my Christmas presents was a subscription to Poets & Writers magazine. In one of the articles in the last issue was this quote:
You have to put yourself in a position to discover something new.
Though the writer was not talking specifically about how we stay informed, he’s on to something. The word news is simply the plural of the word new. We do need to put ourselves in a position to discover news and not let ourselves be fed what seems most commercially viable to the media moguls, or what feels most agreeable to us. As much as I would like to blame the editors of TIME, the only reason I know they had other covers around the world is because John Stewart told me, and that’s my bad. The world deserves better from me.
TIME and CNN and Fox and the rest of them are the fast food of the news and entertainment industry. To depend on them makes as much sense as relying on Burger King or McDonalds to give me a good nutritious meal everyday. It’s up to me to feed my body food that matters; the same goes for my mind and heart. Back in my Royal Ambassador days (for you who didn’t grow up Baptist, think Southern Baptist Cub Scouts), we used to say, “As a Royal Ambassador, I will do my best to become a well informed, responsible follower of Christ . . . .”
How can I live out my calling if I don’t know what is going on around me and beyond me? The short answer is I can’t. Living out my calling means putting myself in a position to discover the news that I might do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly.