Thought for the Day - Rhidian Brook
Earlier this week I heard two people talking about the death of Amy Winehouse. Whilst one seemed histrionically upset by the loss of the 27-year old singer, describing it as a great tragedy; the other seemed unsympathetic arguing that it couldn’t be compared to the deaths of those children in Norway or the starving thousands in Somalia. Although there was some truth in this statement, I had the feeling he didn’t really care about these terrible events either. He was just using them like trump cards in a game of ‘Worst News Of The Week.’
Sometimes it’s difficult to calibrate an appropriate response to events – especially when they come back-to-back at barely process-able speed. The news makes demands on us. It shows us a corpse. Tells us we should care deeply about it. Then it shows us another. And tells us to care about this one too with equal feeling, before another event unfolds and makes new claims on our time, emotions and thought life. And all this augmented by the buzzing of a million micro-broadcasters circling the bodies of people they barely know.
The danger is we end up not caring about any of it. The news just functions as disposable entertainment. It becomes, to quote Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop: ‘what a chap who doesn’t care Much about anything wants to read. And it’s only news until he’s read it. After that it’s dead.’ News matters, but if all it does is inure us to genuine tragedy, then something’s missing. When a thousand boys cry wolf with equal alarm we either become cynical and give up trying to distinguish between what matters, or we become too fascinated and pour heart and souls into vicarious pits which swallow us whole, leaving nothing for people and events that are right on our doorstep.
So how should we respond? There’s a list of gifts that God is said to give freely to those who ask and one of them is discernment. That ability to make a sound judgement not just about what is good or evil but about what to respond to and how. It’s a very practical gift and one I think could help us perceive events clearly and quickly whilst avoiding either callous disregard or hysterical immersion; giving us instead a better understanding of where out responsibility to these things begins and ends.
We see it at its best in Jesus who, when telling people not to focus on wars or famines, seemed to have an almost insouciant attitude towards the great news stories of the day. Indeed, His most common response to big events was silence. As though trusting in something beyond words. He seemed to accept that events would take their course – not because of cold complacency or a zealous self-importance, but because he had an absolute trust in the moral goodness behind the universe and an involved God that sees it all and cares. Perhaps it’s this kind of discernment we need when the headrush of bad news threatens to overwhelm us.