Wednesday, October 23, 2013

On a Healthy Media Diet

Today, I was thinking about the diet that we Americans feast upon.  I'm sure many people read the word diet and immediately think of food and the current obesity epidemic in this country, but actually I'm not talking about food.  I'm talking about media, books, and entertainment.  And diet is a loaded word that has lots of connotations, so let me clarify how I mean it when I use the word "diet":

"diet:  (noun)3. Something used, enjoyed, or provided regularly: subsisted on a diet of detective novels during his vacation." (from  website )

In other words, when I use the word diet I am talking about the definition that entails how we regularly consume something, in this case books, media, and entertainment.  And I say this with disdain toward myself, as often I am the chief of sinners.  And even though I am not talking about food, I am going to use the food analogy to make my point.  

I have recently discovered, thanks to my eldest daughter's fantastic baking skills, that I LOVE chocolate chip cookie dough fudge.  I am seriously not joking. The stuff is like candy crack, it is so delicious.  My flesh would love nothing more than to sit down with the whole container she made and just inhale it all.  Now, my mind and spirit recognize this is not wisdom, so I do my best to refrain from said behavior.  But still, just having that stuff sitting in our fridge is totally the best form of torture.  Don't judge me.  I'm broken, and I recognize it.  I'm a work in progress.  Anyway, my point is not to degrade chocolate chip cookie dough fudge.  In small amounts, here and there, it's fine.  It's a pleasure that I highly endorse.  But in large amounts, it is something that could have the power to destroy my health.  And that is where I think I am sometimes, and truthfully where we are as a culture.  We are gorging ourselves on "cookie dough fudge" media, or sometimes worse,  and wondering why our country is on the decline.  

Just take a look at top books, even in Christian circles.  I recently looked at the books for sale in the Christian media catalog I got in the mail.  Books with titles like "Your Best Life Now."  I am not saying that any particular author is bad, or that that book is bad.  I'm not even at this point addressing the CONTENT of the books; it was just so many of the TITLES that drew my attention. I'm not trying to debate the merits of one preacher over another.  I am saying that most of the titles sounded more focused on pleasing ourselves,  and less focused on pleasing God.  I don't fault the authors or publishers for this, either; honestly, they are just putting out there what they think will sell.  And self-love is what sells.  No matter what the book is really about, if you put a spin on it to make people think it is all about them, then they will be more likely to buy it.    

Secular circles are certainly not better.  I turn on the tv, and sometimes I am appalled by what passes for entertainment.  Not because it's vulgar or crass; sometimes that is the case, I admit.  But not always.  I just sometimes wonder at how dumbed down much of it is.  Does that mean I never watch it, or read it?  No, I admitted at the beginning of this spiel that I am one of the guilty.  But that doesn't make it right.  For example, I admit it: I love the twilight saga.   (Pretty sure a bunch of people just took me off any spiritual pedestal with that admission, but I am being honest and real here.)  I enjoy it, and I have no conviction that I am sinning by doing so.  However, I do think that making this book the high point of my reading experience is not healthy.  It's junk food reading.  When I fill my mind with books like this one, but don't allow time to read books that require my brain to actually work and think harder, I am doing no one but myself a true disservice.

One of my favorite homeschooling role models of the past, Charlotte Mason, had a word for dumbed down books; she called them "twaddle."  That is what comes to mind when I consider the media culture of today.  I recognize that our culture is not the first in world history to become enraptured with baser entertainments; the Ancient Roman appetite for the gladiatorial games immediately comes to mind.  And in the case of that example, I can see also that some of our entertainments may be WORSE than just cookie dough fudge, for I see nothing in gladiatorial games that had ANY redemptive value whatsoever, and much that was just plain evil.  My main point, however,  is that cultures tend to swing on pendulums.  And the direction we are headed in is not one that I endorse, atleast when my reason is operational.  The truth of the matter is that a steady diet of "garbage in" will only produce "garbage out."   Sometimes, it can be another issue entirely, though, to adhere by my higher thinking, when the tempation to indulge in crass entertainment is akin to staring at a traffic accident as one drives by.  While part of me is appalled, the other part is so shocked and consumed by curiosity the temptation to peer at the carnage is almost impossible to resist.  

It's not even that there is a little of it; if there were, it would not consume us or overwhelm us.  But the diet of cookie dough media is EVERYWHERE.  Why read a great book when you can tune into American idol?  Why sit down and read your Bible when you can read a devotional book that makes you feel good, while keeping your brain off any greater theology?  Why think through an issue when you can watch a soundbite and be handed your opinion by some talking newshead, who twists the truth to suit whatever agenda pleases the broadcast network?  Again, it's not that any of these things are all BAD; they are just not things that require any DISCIPLINE in our thinking.   They don't require us to sit down and mull over great ideas or great thoughts.  We are spoon fed and bottle fed and told not to mess our pants about whatever the current presidential administration or Congress is doing; we are told we are ENTITLED to things, and to trust the higher authority to take care of us.  And we whine a little, complain about the unfairness of it all, and then go back to our bottles and diapers.  

I have to admit,  for all the injustice and problems of our past as a nation, there is one thing that I am jealous of people who lived in this country over a century ago: their lack of media.  I do not think people today are any more evil than people in the past; I do think that the temptation is just so much greater, because it is EVERYWHERE you look.  

Some people will read this as a cry for more federal government regulation of the media, but I think that is the worst possible answer.  I may struggle in my diet of media, but even I have read Farenheit 451  and 1984.  Government is made up of the same group of people who can't control themselves; why would we think they would do a better job regulating us than we do ourselves?  What I am calling for here is more SELF regulation.  

What we need as a culture is for individuals to take a long, hard look at the diet upon which they feed their minds---not the bits and pieces but the whole.  And just like with food, any changes that are meaningful have to be LIFESTYLE changes, not changes based on fads or feelings.  We have to examine our lives as individuals, and make the choice to think through our media choices, and make decisions based on what will help us grow individually, and as a nation. And honestly, the only way I see to overcome the flesh is through crucifixion of it.  And we need the power of God at work in our lives to be able to do even that.   While a little "junk food" media here and there is not going to kill anybody, a lifestyle of baseless media entertainment is something with the power to destroy our whole way of life, I believe. The other insanely revolutionary idea is that we sometimes even choose to STOP all the background noise, and to TURN IT OFF.   That's right.  You heard me correctly.  How crazy would it be if sometimes we allowed ourselves to BE STILL and QUIET?  I know that it's going to be pretty hard for God to ever speak to me if I am always tuned in to someone ELSE talking.  

 And as always, change starts with individuals.  Or as the famous philosopher of our age, Michael Jackson, said, "The man in the mirror." lol So I guess the changes should start with me.  

Here's to a little more C.S. Lewis and a little less whatever preacher is the flavor of the month, unless that preaching requires me to open my Bible and truly meditate on God's word in a deeper, meaningful way.   A little more Pride and Prejudice and a little less Gray's Anatomy.  A little more Bach and a little less American Idol.  A little bit more Puritanical thinking about where true joy is found, and a little bit less me-centered living.  Maybe even sometimes when we give ourselves a chance to view NOTHING at all, so that our minds could actually meditate on some of those great ideas we took the time to read and savor.   I'm not advocating for the destruction of cookie dough fudge; just that we partake of it in smaller doses, and that our subsistence is more on HIM, and the great ideas and books that can change us and make us better, enriched people. 

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