I remember when I was at seminary, a number of my colleagues would say something like, "It's appalling how little young people know about what's going on in the world today! Argh grr arghrrrr." While generally this is a disturbing trend, I wonder if it's really as disturbing as people make it out to be. I mean, one of the memories from seminary most etched into my mind is of someone's making the above comment in a theology class, more or less arguing that our theology, our very understanding of God, should revolve around world news/events. Seriously? As if we must believe that God is different in the periods when Silvio Berlusconi was leader in Rome and when Marcus Aurelius was leader in Rome simply because the tone of world news changed. That makes little to no sense. World events do not dictate the character of God's being. If that is the best argument for why young people today should read the news, then I am appalled at our lack of logic.
Now, whether or not we believe in God, there is certainly reason for why we should concern ourselves with the news. Local news is especially important, I think. We can't be self-centered all the time. Some of the time, maybe that's okay. At some point, though, we need to acknowledge that we can't live a truly good, joyous and/or content life if we aren't at least somewhat concerned with the welfare of our neighbors and communities. So I don't necessarily disagree that we should have some type of an idea of what's going on. In South Burlington right now, for example, there is a strike of bus drivers. If I did not know that and went around living as if everything were good and normal, that would be callous toward the people who depend on buses for travel. That's an important bit of news of which I should be aware. And how would we ever know what cool events are being offered in our community if we didn't sometimes check in with newspapers? But still, I have always wondered: to what extent should we obsess over the news, with local events and especially national and world events/news?
In the wake of the breaking news about the vanishing Malaysian airplane, I thought about my question again. Is it appalling how little young people know about what's going on in the world today? My answer is yes, but not for the reason we think. What does the Malaysian flight have anything to do with this? Well, it's recent news; and, though I'm writing this long after the news broke, my fiancee could tell you that I was saying the following the night of the first news break: "Why are we so obsessed with entertainment news? News now is all about distracting us from the real questions." The reason I am writing this post now rather than when I first thought about it is out of respect for those who were on flight 370, and the loved ones who are now grieving. I have been praying for them. Since Jon Stewart and The Daily Show have effectually pointed out the errors of the news coverage of the missing flight, I will take their cue.
Is the missing flight news? In a world where we might be able to say that there unexplainable "natural" occurrences, then, yes, it is absolutely news, because this might be pointing us in that direction. But my hunch that it is also entertainment news to news outlets and the masses was confirmed when Facebook exploded on this subject. Facebook exploded for days; and I know that many are still avidly following this story. Is it necessary that I, a young person, or any other person, know that a flight went missing? Or that I follow the story day after day? Probably not. I'm glad that I know, but it's not necessary. It's definitely not necessary that I follow the search stories, because those aren't helpful at all. It's also definitely not necessary that I followed the news shortly after this news broke: all I would have seen were fake planes hovering around and people's telling me what we all already know: planes are planes, and black boxes are black boxes. No, it's not necessary that I know, nor is it appalling if someone doesn't know (though shocking, certainly, considering the widespread and relentless coverage).
But is it necessary to know what's going on inside of ourselves? Is it appalling if we don't know what we believe? Is it appalling if what we believe is not reflected in who we are? Is it appalling if there are great gaps between what we possibly can be, and who we actually are, and that we don't care? The answer to those and similar questions are all YES!!!! WITHOUT QUESTION! And which is more appalling: if we don't know the news, or if we don't know anything about ourselves or how we relate to God and others? The latter, of course, because if we don't know anything about ourselves and how we relate to God and others, then there is absolutely nothing we can do about the news that we learn. We first need to know who we are, who we believe we can be, and how we believe we should or can live, and then, only then, can anything the news tells us mean anything. The first and most important step is always working out what we believe, who we are and what we can/should be. Indeed, once we do that step, there might be no other steps, because if we are living into what we can or should be as persons--persons capable of great power--then we will by consequence be changing the world around us. What, then, would it matter what's going on in the world? If we are living into all that we can be, then we will be starting a revolution of character that can on its own help end slavery, corruption, oppression, injustice, etc.
Essentially, this is why I write: to move all of us to be who we can be so that we can experience the fullness of human joy and contentment, the fullness of human potential, and by our very being to make the world a better place. My two published books deal with these themes directly, but even my unpublished stories and poems address these issues (no matter how funny and apparently meaningless they may be).
Is it appalling how little young people, or any other people, know about what's going on in the world? Yes, but only if a person isn't working on his or herself to change the world through fulfilling human possibility with a character of power and righteousness, and through faithful living. Perhaps we should stop obsessing over entertainment news and instead obsess over whether or not we are living well. For if we are not living well, it doesn't matter how synched-in we may be to the world and its problems, we would still be contributing to the world's problems. My hope is that my books and future writing will help us to stop obsessing over and arguing about things that are not necessary and do not, in the grand scheme of things, truly matter; and instead focus on ourselves, guiding us to be the great, divine persons that we can all be.
And in the meantime, let us all pray for those who continue to grieve the lost friends and family members; and pray for all those who have lost loved ones, whose lives are equally precious, since the breaking news first came to our attention.