Writer, editor, stumbler after Jesus

Headlines and heartburn


Those at The Center for Mindful Eating believe that one of the answers to America’s obesity problem is to be more thoughtful and aware of what we put into our mouths. They say that mindful eating—chewing slowly, swallowing carefully—has “the powerful potential to transform people’s relationship to food and eating, to improve overall health, body image, relationships and self-esteem.”

I believe the same is true about another diet: our intake of news. Too many times we treat the TV newscast or the newspaper like an all-you-can-eat buffet, where we can’t leave until we’ve had a bit of everything. Eventually we stagger away bloated, uncomfortable, with a bad case of heartburn. And that indigestion can have far-reaching consequences.

Consider how ten of the Israelite “journalists” sent to scout out the Promised Land brought back a “bad report” that ended up with a whole generation missing out on God’s plan. That was because their reports gave the people heartburn: Joshua 14 says that they “made the heart of the people melt.”

Ever felt like that after watching, reading, or listening to half an hour of disaster, betrayal, tragedy, murder, corruption, violence, and immorality (aka “the headlines”)? You’re left feeling slightly nauseous:

    • The world’s just getting sicker and sicker.

    • Life is so unfair.

    • Nothing I can do will ever make a difference.

    • The hand-basket is full, and we are on our way!

The media is well aware of this kind of impact. Ever noticed how television bulletins usually try to slip in something briefly upbeat before they go to a commercial break? It’s like informational Pepto-Bismol. After all, who’s going to appreciate an ad for Macaroni Grill if they’ve come straight from shots of a famine in Africa? The upbeat buffer appeases advertisers.

As with being overweight, the answer to this news-nausea (“newsea”?) is not to stop eating entirely (though a fast to help “detox” might not be a bad thing). It’s to be more intentional and engaged about what we’re taking in and digesting. Nor am I suggesting we just avoid “bad news.” We need to be aware of what is happening in our world—like the killing of babies that survived late-term abortions.

But we need to be less passive, not just swallowing what we are spoon-fed. We need to engage our minds and our hearts. The tendency to go into neutral and not think about what we are taking in is especially prevalent with television, which is essentially an entertainment medium. It makes us want to reach for popcorn, rather then a pen to take notes.

Perhaps best known for his insightful Amusing Ourselves to Death, media theorist Neil Postman partnered with former television news producer Steve Powers for How to Watch TV News, a slim but helpful book on discerning viewing. Written before the advent of the Internet, some of its principles are yet applicable to today’s online world, too.

Another way for Christians to avoid news “heartburn” is to take those headlines to God. Choosing even one report from the news round-up and praying about it and for those involved can break the power of the sense of helplessness and hopelessness that can linger. What might happen if more Christians allowed the news to fuel their prayer life in this way? CBN correspondents Wendy Griffith and Craig Von Buseck go into this in their book, Praying the News: Your Prayers are More Powerful than you Know.

Let’s not avoid the news, but engage it in such a way that we are left not with heartburn, but with burning hearts.


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