One of the most challenging aspects to returning to the United States is the barrage of hyper-emotional rhetoric around… everything. I find myself tuning into National Public Radio and after just a story or two, changing the station to pop music. It seems that every story is about a person with extreme views or a very messed up situation that resulted from people taking all-or-nothing stands. Even the trivial, i.e. celebrity lives are hyped to the hilt. I have to avert my eyes in the check out line or look around and remind myself that most people are muddling through and living fairly decent, normal lives. And yes, most everyday I open up the New Zealand Herald on my iPad and remind myself that there is a place where everyone is not all riled up. (My friend Jim Adan accuses me of finding everything better in NZ.)
Social media seems to exacerbate the situation. People react immediately without taking time to reflect. The arc of action/reaction/reaction/reaction in the Penn State scandal seduced me into weighing in when I found a view that most closely matched my own (i.e. Jon Stewart’s riff on the students rioting over Coach Joe Paterno’s dismissal that I posted on Facebook). I confess that is about as thoughtful as playing a child’s card game where you match objects to one another.
This past week there has been another cycle for the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood clinics for the non-abortion related provision of women’s health care: principally breast health screening. The action/reaction/reaction/reaction has fallen along tradition and superficial choice/pro-choice lines. This controversy was amplified (one might have said televised in an earlier decade) in social media.
A similar but much quieter controversy is playing out over the federal government’s decision to require the Catholic Church to provide birth control to women in their health plans. The shallow media stories focus on whether or not it will cost President Obama votes in November. Lost are the more important questions of religious freedom, the separation of church and state, access to health care for women and how this affects individuals’ lives.
I notice on Twitter thanks to New Yorker magazine that the new “football” is the Chrysler ad during the Super Bowl featuring Clint Eastwood. The shrill accusations of it being “political” are ironic at best and callow at medium best, and disgusting at worst. Again, an opportunity to have a conversation about what everyone in the USA needs to do to regain our footing as a local and national economy and as a community is drowned out by the shrieking in our own media. (Amy Davidson's blog, to her credit, gets beyond the screaming and asks is it "perpetual morning" in America as Reagan suggested, or "half-time" and does attempt to provide some reflection.)
I am not down on all media. The Internet that has thrust us into a time of transition and confusion is also the source of great thought and information. It is where I watch Bill Moyers and Charlie Rose and read the New Yorker magazine. On my iPad I read the Bible in the morning and see wonderful clips like this one (and I love that it is from Chile where Grace Julie is an exchange student):
These galaxies are always present even though we do not “see” them. We imagine ourselves to be so sophisticated. And yet we are out of touch with the basic realities of the universe. We imagine earlier civilizations to be unsophisticated because, in part, of their dependence on God (in various forms). Perhaps we would come to the same conclusions about a Creator if we lived each night without man-made light pollution and could see the Milky Way in its true glory.
We are surprised when volcanoes and earthquakes destroy the creations of men. Maybe briefly we allow ourselves to acknowledge our lack of permanence, but then quickly reassert the illusion of control.
I am not interested in some kind of return to Religion. I am interested in the transformation that occurs in us (individually) when we encounter the power greater than ourselves. Like the prophets before me, first I worship and then I search my own heart and find it unclean. And from that place I ask the old question: what is to be done?