IF YOU’RE LIKE the 68 percent of Americans who are sick of the news, according to a recent Pew Research Center study, then it’s probably time to change your diet.
The secret to healthy eating is pretty simple: don’t swallow everything that’s served up. That applies as much to news as it does to food. With that in mind, let me suggest a seven-step “good media diet” for Christians who want to be more conscious consumers of what’s being reported.
1. Say grace
As you may do before a meal, pause to acknowledge God. Give thanks for those who have prepared those reports and pray for them in their efforts. Ask God to use what you ingest to somehow further His kingdom.
2. Know your intolerances
If you have problems with gluten, dairy, or peanuts, you know that some things will lead to a bad reaction. In the same way, we bring backgrounds and experiences to what we read and see. Some are positive, and may help us understand better. Others may be negative, and cloud our judgment. Acknowledge that you need God’s help to be discerning; ask the Holy Spirit to lead and guide you.
3. Go easy on fast food
Many of us enjoy Big Macs occasionally, but they don’t make for a nutritious, regular intake. Breaking news captures our attention and our imaginations because of its inherent sense of drama. However, remember that early reports of terrorist attacks, school shootings, and other calamities are often—understandably—inaccurate. You may learn more by ignoring the scoopers and waiting for later reports from the “Luke-alikes” who know that good reporting takes time.
4. Consume smaller portions
When you’re at an open buffet, it’s tempting to keep going back for more. But doing so usually leaves you feeling a little bloated. Avoid indigestion by knowing when to push your plate away. Keep in mind that in situations of unfolding news, much of what you see on cable news isn’t actually helpful, fresh information (or confirmation). It’s not adding to your understanding. It’s just chatter—people filling the air while they wait for fresh details. Speculation, not information.
5. Read the labels
Take time to find out where the ingredients come from. Study the contents and check the sources. Is your news provider reporting directly, or is it referencing some other publication or outlet? If so, you’re not so much getting news as playing a game of telephone. Go to the original to source to check the details. Cross check: what do you know about the experience and reputation of the original source?
6. Chew slowly
It’s okay to have opinions, but be slow to rush to judgment on a matter. A judgment is a final verdict—it means that you have heard and weighed all the facts. But are you left with questions after what you have read or seen? Be especially cautious when it comes to brief visual clips. We have a tendency to believe we understand something more when we see it than when we just read or hear about it. But short visual moments can be deceptive, as this old British newspaper “Points of View” ad reminds us.
7. Combine with exercise
Good food is fuel for the body, enabling you to go out and do something. Similarly, look for ways to respond to what you have learned. You can start by praying, but maybe God will lead you to more active involvement, like David Wilkerson. As a rural pastor in the 1950s, he read in Life magazine about the teen gangs in New York City and felt prompted to go and reach out to them. So began a remarkable ministry, recalled in the best-selling book, The Cross and the Switchblade.
Try following this plan for a week or two and see if you don’t feel better at the end of it.
You can hear the whole “Understanding the Times” message from which this was drawn here. The first few minutes will reveal why I never became a preacher!