So Much Bad News
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
--John 1:5 NRSV
“There’s so much bad news. Humans screw up everything.”
Those were the words of my 17 year-old son as we talked last evening about the state of the world. I sympathize with his feelings. My son doesn’t peruse news sites constantly like his father, but he is online all the time. It’s nearly impossible to look at a phone, tablet or computer screen these days and not be assailed on every side by negative news about the state of the world. COVID-19, climate change, politics, conspiracy theories, racism, violence, income inequality, corruption. . . the list goes on and on. It’s easy to feel like the world is at a tipping point of some kind.
When I take a step back from the news notifications constantly popping up on my phone, I think I still believe bad news is news, because it remains the exception rather than the rule. All forms of media know that they are more likely to get viewers, readers and clicks from a frightening headline than a reassuring one. If you’re one of the few who still watches the evening news at 5:30 CST, then you know they save the feel good story for the final few moments of the broadcast. They don’t lead with it, because who would tune in? They just give you a tiny dose of hope at the end of the show so you don’t completely give up and forget to tune in tomorrow. I’m not sure what the social media and online news version of the obligatory good news story is, but I’m sure there is one.
What if the ratio of good news to bad news stories is all wrong? What if there are really more stories of good news than bad? I don’t in any way mean to minimize the immense challenges we face as a species or the suffering they cause, we need to take seriously the problems of our times. However, I can’t escape the feeling that all this bad news leads us to a nihilistic apathy rather than inspires a courageous response. Maybe we need to be reminded that appearances to the contrary, all is not lost. We are not powerless to respond. A better future is possible.
Saint Francis once said, “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.” Think about it for a moment. This statement is true. Yes, the darkness is still present but so is the light. It has become a trite meme, but I believe it remains true what Mr. Rogers said to preschoolers when bad news is on TV: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” There are people all around us offering help all the time. They don’t make the news, because what they are doing is so common--even if it is from God’s perspective extraordinary.
Some have rightly criticized Mr. Roger’s words being deployed after school shootings or some other horrible event. They point out that looking for the helpers replaces our responsibility to be helpers and make the world a better place. I agree with that criticism and I think we need to cultivate habits of seeing the good in the world. I don’t mean we should ignore the bad news in our world or abdicate our responsibility to make the world a better place in whatever way we are able, but I think when we are bombarded by negative images and messages at a scale unprecedented in human history we all could use some inspiration to balance it out.
Whether you are a person of faith or of no faith, if you are viewing the world’s cup as half empty these days--if not completely empty--look for the light all around you. You’ll find it in every day kindnesses offered by people to others at least as often as you see the lack of kindness. If you are a Christian, hold fast to the truth that the light of Christ is never overcome by the darkness despite appearances to the contrary. The good news of the Gospel is the light of the Divine can shine in and through everything and everyone. Whether a person claims faith in God or not, the light shines in the darkness through the love and kindness they share by offering help in a difficult world. Take a look around, look at the helpers, be inspired and then go let the light of love shine through all the ways you offer help to a word in need.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
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