Question of the Day: Do you follow the news?

At different times in my life, I’ve taken a sabbatical from the news.  I don’t listen to NPR; I don’t watch any news shows, including the “comedy” ones like the Daily Show; I’ve even been known to take lengthy breaks from facebook.  As someone vulnerable to depression, there are times I honestly can’t take it – I feel too vulnerable to the bad news bombarding us, and I feel too helpless to do anything that will make a difference, and I feel as a person of faith I should care, but I just don’t have it in me.  But then comes the pressure of obligation, especially as a pastor:  Shouldn’t I know what’s going on in the world?  Even if most of it is bad?  But then, didn’t Jesus just deal with what was right in front of him?

I heard this podcast from Freakonomics:

http://freakonomics.com/2015/08/05/why-do-we-really-follow-the-news-a-new-freakonomics-radio-episode/

And I realized it’s a really good question:  Why do we follow the news?

Here are my questions:

  1. Do you follow the news?
  2. If you don’t, why don’t you?  Did you make a conscious decision not to, or does it not interest you?
  3. How do you feel about NOT following the news, if you don’t?
  4. If you do follow the news, have you wondered why?
  5. What would you say you get out of the news?
  6. What do you do with the news you hear?

I’m very curious about what you will say!

Next post:  What Margaret Heffernan, author of “Willful Blindness: Why we ignore the obvious at our peril,” has to say about our limited brains, and how that might affect our interactions with the news.

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Would you wear the shirt of a killer?

It’s been over two and a half years since my husband’s cousin murdered his mother, then killed himself, at which point we figured out he had probably also pushed his father off a cliff in Mt. Rainier 18 months earlier.  (Let’s just air our ALL the dirty laundry at once, shall we?)

By geographic karma, we were the ones to clean out John’s apartment, and sort through all his worldly possessions.  We brought home many nice suits designed for slim men 6’4″, and donated them to our son’s basketball team and coaches, without telling them the back story.  We gave a lot to Goodwill.  Then one day, I realized my husband was wearing a nice plain black t-shirt from Banana Republic, where he’s never stepped foot.  I didn’t have to ask; I knew, especially when I took a look through his drawers.

You can check out my best guess for how John’s cottage cheese ended up in our fridge, but this was different.  My husband was wearing the clothes of a killer.  It sort of “creeped me out,” to use my 7 year old niece Ruthie’s expression.  And I thought about it for awhile.  How could he do this?  Not “HOW in the world could he do this,” but, “What exactly was going on in his brain that wasn’t happening in mine, or vice versa?”

My husband had drawn a distinction between the “evil” or “bad” part of this cousin – he called that part “Conrad,” John’s middle name; and the part of John he had watched grow up – There’s about 14 or 15 years between them, and they went on all sorts of family vacations throughout John’s childhood and Paul’s adolescence.  In my husband’s mind, he wasn’t wearing a killer’s shirt, he was wearing the shirt of the sweet toddler who had woken him from a nap by sitting on his head in his soggy diaper.

My kids and I don’t have those memories; we don’t really know that young John; we have less cognitive dissonance than my husband.  In other words, even though it’s really hard to accept this person was part of your family, it was easier for us to wrap our minds around what John had done, and that he was the sort of person who did such things.  For my husband?  His brain had to find a way to reconcile these seemingly contradictory truths:  Sweet Baby John and grown up Killer John.  And he does it by “dividing and compartmentalizing.”

But no worries:  Our brains do this all the time.  We believe two contradictory truths all the time; we just don’t usually let ourselves be aware of it.  It’s not that my husband denies John’s guilt.  He just has older memories which he separates from newer truths, all the while holding both, and deciding not to even try to reconcile them.

Some things are mysterious.   Sometimes, our brains give up trying to understand and reconcile every fact, and decide answering the unanswerable is less important than living with the unknowable.  In a nutshell, eventually every faith practitioner comes to the same conclusion.   So I don’t give my husband a hard time about his tshirt; instead, to quote Iris DeMente, we both just “let the mystery be.”

Why We Need James’ Message (the one from the Greek Bible) to Overcome the Brain’s Wiring

James 2:1-13 one of the four Christian Bible passages suggested for preaching this week.  (Spoiler alert to all in my congregation:  I’m preaching again from James.)

James is famous for his insistence on the integration of faith with deeds, and much can be said about that, neuro-spiritually speaking.

But this passage specifically speaks against stereotyping, and it’s something we need to hear over and over and over again.  Because our brains are wired to stereotype.  What our brains do, it’s not inherently evil.  Our brains are just going along their merry way, trying hard to conserve energy and find shortcuts.  (Remember, our brains consume 20-25% of our calories.  Sadly, your brain won’t necessarily burn off  the extra delicious calories that come from ice cream or m&m binges, even if you think really really hard about this blog.)

So, our brains are wired to stereotype, because it’s a shortcut, and it saves energy.  What is unfaithful, or unreflective, or irresponsible, is to allow our brains to dictate our lives.  Contradictory, I know.  But:  Just because our brains stereotype to save energy, doesn’t mean we sit back and let them be lazy.  No, God gave us this gift of a brain, to use.  We 21st century human beings are called to a higher standard; we’re called to engage our prefrontal cortex.

What does that look like?  Thinking about our thoughts, because

1. We are not our thoughts.

2. We can change our thoughts.

3. Unthinking action leads us into trouble.

4. Our often unconscious bias needs to be dragged out into the open for evaluation, and often more than once.  It didn’t get there overnight, and one good overhaul won’t fix it permanently.  Those new neural pathways take time.

The good news?  We carry the tools we need around with us all the time!  Our brains have the tools to change how they are wired.  Crazy, huh.  But because of our brains, we can take responsibility for how our brain is wired today, and can be changed with our intentional help, for tomorrow.

(And the reason meditation is such a hot topic, and why it is similar to prayer, is that in that quiet time, we can become aware of, and think about, and evaluate, our thoughts that we didn’t even realize we were thinking.  Because our brains are also sneaky little buggers.)