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Give Up the News for Lent!

By Hedgehog.

Are you wondering what to give up for Lent? Well, here's Hedgehog's suggestion - give up watching or listening to the news, including the so-called 'local' news. Yes, I know it'll be tough, but you'll feel a lot better for it and your ministry will become more effective as a result.

Immediately I hear cries of "But how will I know what's going on in the world?" and "How can I pray about these things if I don't know what's happening?"

My answer is to ask whether you actually need to know? And do you really need to pray about all these things? Perhaps more pertinently - do you actually pray about all these things anyway? My faltering sense of history tells me that, for at least 1,700 years of church history, the average church leader in Britain would have had no idea about whether there had been a train disaster in the Alps, a civil war in central Europe, a boxer with a brain clot in the Shetlands or a bomb outrage in Saudi Arabia. He would not have known about a child being murdered in Sussex, a plane crash in Paris, an outbreak of disease in North Africa or the brutal suppression of a demonstration in China, unless….. one of his parishioners had been involved. Even then he would only have found out about it perhaps months afterwards.

In other words, the only 'news' he would have known about would have been that which was genuinely local. His prayers would have been filled with supplication to God for the needs of his parishioners: for Mrs Jones whose husband had been killed in an accident; for local events such as the theft of a farmer's sheep; for Mr Smith who was sick; for John and Mary who were to be married soon. His prayers would have reflected his deep engagement with the needs of the immediate locality.

So what has happened to those prayers? I fear that they have become submerged in an information overload that makes us feel we must pray about much more 'important' issues than Mrs Brown's need for a new home. We must pray, and be concerned about, issues of regional, national and international significance - issues which are allegedly much more important than our mere trivial local concerns. As a result, I suggest, most of us are deeply ignorant of the real local issues which surround us.

And who tells us what is important and what is trivial? Why, the TV and radio news, of course! They report every incident as though it carries the same weight as the next and all sound much more important than what is happening in our neighbourhood. It is much more important, the news screams at us, to be concerned about national rail safety than about whether the local children play on the line. It seems much more important to be concerned about the murder of a child in Sussex than to work at building local community as a way of preventing it happening here. We are told, subliminally, that it is much more important to be anxious about a war on the other side of the world than it is to deal with neighbour disputes in our street. And we are told that the national drugs problem is much more important than whether we can do anything to prevent drugs being sold at the local school gate. Even the so-called local news is introduced on the BBC as "the News where you are" - it never is: most of the time it's not even the news from our town, let alone our neighbourhood!

And our perspective is surely distorted by all this. Certainly there are people who are called to live out their ministries on the big world stage, and God bless them. But most of us are called to live out our ministries on a much smaller scale, to be concerned for the needs of the people and communities among whom we live. The trouble is that our heads and hearts are so full of the regional, national and international issues that we have no space in which to cope with the local ones. We need to clear out some of the clutter generated by the national and international media to hear again the voices of our immediate local communities.

So I'm giving up watching and listening to the international, national and regional news for Lent. Instead, I'm going to start taking the local newspaper, so that I can find out more of what is happening in the town where I live and minister.

And, at the risk of sounding over-pious, I'm going to concentrate my prayers on my local neighbourhood. I'm going to pray for Mrs White's cat, and Mrs Green's bunions; Mr Black's blocked drains and Mr Williams' onions. And I'm also going to start praying about the problems which affect us all in our parish, such as road congestion, noise pollution and the general sense of helplessness. But as I do, I'm going to pray that I and the people for whom I pray will in some sense encounter God and be empowered to make a difference. I don't quite know how God will do that, but I'm looking forward to finding out!

Hedgehog

A lovable, but sometimes prickly fellow

Ministry Today

You are reading Give Up the News for Lent! by Hedgehog, part of Issue 21 of Ministry Today, published in February 2001.

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