• Aarik Danielsen

Turn Up the News

Against full-bodied guitars and a loping rhythm, Lukas Nelson—Willie’s boy—sounds out a compelling case for a kinder, gentler sort of life.


“Turn off the news and build a garden / Just my neighborhood and me,” he sings in a mellow tenor. “We might feel a bit less hardened / We might feel a bit more free / Turn off the news and raise your kids / Give them something to believe in / Teach them how to be good people / Give them hope that they can see.”

Analyzing your frustration with news-gathering only makes you a more literate consumer and citizen.

I hear similar strains when I check in with Christian friends on social media. Perceptive, otherwise engaged people implore anyone within earshot to turn off the news and ground themselves in more soul-nourishing pursuits. Others make clear that, for the sake of prudence and their blood pressure, they avert their eyes from screens and newsprint.


I understand the impulse. In 2020, the nature of our news—nearly all of it bad and burdensome—threatens to unmoor us. My convictions tell me humans inflict no more damage upon each other than we did 10, 20 or 100 years ago. But the omnipresence of words and images across traditional and social media brings that ruin into greater relief. We feel the news on our shoulders; its weight curves our spines.


Some Christians rightly, acutely sense a disconnect. Journalism only stakes its claim to verifiable truth. Like lawyers, reporters sign their names to what they can prove, to what holds up under scrutiny. Christian wisdom professes to see the truth behind the ticker, the eternal why beyond the who, what, when and where.


That some disciples would choose to exchange lesser truths for lasting ones—or spend themselves on activities that draw their souls into a palpable, holy presence—makes sense. But as a journalist who happens to be a Christian, I worry about the implications of turning off the news.


In the face of calls to clear our hearts and minds of today’s news, two questions surface. First, what news do you consume? The phrase “turn off” typically implies an exposure to TV news. As a print journalist, I often wince at the rising volume of cable channels and the “both sides” ambiguity that passes for objectivity there. But I also find value in the platform when it occupies its proper place in a pyramid that includes public radio and podcasts, newspapers and magazines, established and startup media.

If nearly every political question we ask is a paraphrase of “Am I my brother’s keeper?” and “Who is my neighbor?” we must be informed and aware enough to recognize our neighbor and learn how to keep our brother.

Analyzing your frustration with news-gathering only makes you a more literate consumer and citizen. Does a certain medium grate on you most? Are you spending more time in the company of the pundit class or with beat reporters who live in your community? Distinguishing between types and tenors of journalism—and asking tough questions of your own media habits—must precede dismissing it all as a monolith. As writer David Dark so wisely reminds us, “There is no ‘the media.’ ”


And to that deeper ache—that grasping for more than your nightly news—a harder, more fundamental question: What were we made for?


Certainly, the creator didn’t intend for us to plant ourselves down in front of the TV for hours at a time. The mealy fruit and calcified souls of those catechized by cable news bear witness. At our most human, we crave a holy magic. We feel our souls stretch to their intended size kneeling in the dirt, closing our eyes to drink in the sound of John Coltrane’s saxophone, immersed in good conversation in the presence of gin and fireflies. The pleasure of God is thick in such moments.


As those who imitate Jesus, we also realize our destiny when we lay ourselves down as bridges between heaven and earth. Turning off the news, even for the sake of that which makes us feel softer and more free, denies something deep within our makeup and marrow.

Again, Dark helps us recover ourselves. “ ‘I’m not political’ is the new ‘I’m not responsible for anything happening around me,’ ” he writes.


Read and watch enough to arrive at a place of informed compassion, to have your biases challenged, to see beyond your own plot of land.

If nearly every political question we ask is a paraphrase of “Am I my brother’s keeper?” and “Who is my neighbor?” we must be informed and aware enough to recognize our neighbor and learn how to keep our brother.


“Turn off the news” becomes a respectable way to stop our ears to our neighbors’ concerns. “Turn off the news” allows us to live in our own little worlds, no more interesting than what our gardens and records and conversations provide. The privilege we invoke in these moments bears little resemblance to the privilege Jesus laid down to enter our stories.


Endless exposure to news atrophies the soul just as much as avoidance. Read and watch enough to arrive at a place of informed compassion, to have your biases challenged, to see beyond your own plot of land. No more and no less will do. Maturing disciples of Jesus can abide both eternal and temporal truths, filtering one through the other until they recognize what faithfulness requires at any given moment.


Will we be the people who finally unite heaven and earth? Don’t turn off the news. Turn it up. Then and only then, as the groans of a world aching for redemption hit your ears, run out the door to create and cultivate the more they want. Build your gardens, write your poems, kiss canvases with paint, dismantle broken systems and invent better ones. Keep going in the name of Christ, to heal the brokenhearted and bind up your neighbors’ wounds.



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